Birmingham Salon


AI - Separating Man from Machine

Saturday 10th February, 1.00 pm - 3.00 pm

Map Room, Cherry Reds, 88-92 John Bright Street, B1 1BN

Tickets £3.50

Please book via EventBrite

Oxford Computer Science Professor Michael Wooldridge, who gave the Christmas 2023 Royal Institution Lectures on the subject, describes AI as a glorified spreadsheet and something that doesn't keep him awake at night, although he can see it could pose a catastrophic risk. More generally, thinking about the risks and benefits of AI has moved more towards catastrophising its effects, with the government hosting the first global AI safety summit last November. What both boosters and demonisers of AI seem to have in common is an overestimation of it: it will either solve all problems humanity faces or end us. Even though AI can reportedly predict 70% of earthquakes before they occur, or help farmers better target weedkiller spraying, the fact is that it still regularly makes mistakes. It can give us the answer to a problem such as getting the trains to run on time that all trains should be stopped from running at all.

In the Letter on Liberty essay from which this Salon takes its title, our speaker Sandy Starr argues that AI is a wonder of human invention with connections to other leaps forward in computing such as Babbage's Analytical Engine, Ada Lovelace's first computer programme, Turing's test to assess a machine's ability to imitate a human convincingly, and the invention of Markov chains. However, he concludes that "if aspects of our behaviour, communications and creations can now be emulated by machines, then perhaps we should take this as encouragement to behave, communicate and create differently." We're very pleased that Sandy Starr will be joined by Achim Jung, Emeritus Professor of Computer Science at the University of Birmingham, to help us understand more about AI and what computational theory anticipates about its ability.


Sandy Starrdeputy director of the Progress Educational Trust (PET), a charity that improves choices for people affected by infertility and genetic conditions. He serves on the oversight group of the project Governance of Stem-Cell-Based Embryo Models, coordinated by Cambridge Reproduction.

Achim Jung - Emeritus Professor of Computer Science, University of Birmingham; editor - Theoretical Computer Science; co-founder Birmingham Theory Group (theory of computation).

Chair - Chrissie Daz


AI: Separating Man from Machine, Academy of Ideas Letter on Liberty, Sandy Starr, June 2023
From the Chinese Room Argument to the Church-Turing Thesis, Dean Petters & Achim Jung, Computer Science, April 2018
AI predicts 70% of earthquakes a week before they occur, Interesting Engineering, October 2023