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Cambridge author Dr Michelle Tempest says we shouldn’t fear AI

Cambridge doctor and author Michelle Tempest argues in her new book that we shouldn’t be scared of artificial intelligence.

Dr Michelle Tempest. Picture: Keith Heppell
Dr Michelle Tempest. Picture: Keith Heppell

Dr Michelle Tempest’s book, Big Brain Revolution: Artificial Intelligence Spy or Saviour?, was published last year by Austin Macauley and in it, she asks, among other things, is artificial intelligence changing the world?

Can AI help to solve complex problems baffling scientists and politicians? The answer, she concludes, is yes.

The book offers unique insights into the consequences of mixing psychology with technology, taking the reader on a journey of discovery and stripping AI and the human brain back to basics.

It is not academic – Michelle is passionate about presenting science in a way that is accessible to all.

Instead, it tackles the subject in a straightforward, lucid manner while tackling high-level topics such as whether humans can be manipulated by machines.

Michelle, 44, says: “Big Brain Revolution is a book which I was inspired to do because you see all this new technology out there in the world, and yet we’re not necessarily prepared for it because the world is moving so fast.

“As a result, I wrote this book because I wanted to get people to think about how it impacts their brain, in a similar way to how food impacts nutrition and your body.”

Big Brain Revolution by Dr Michelle Tempest
Big Brain Revolution by Dr Michelle Tempest

Michelle explains: “It’s split into three parts. The first part is about the human brain and the way it works. The next part discusses artificial intelligence – and effectively artificial intelligence is getting technology to try and replicate bits of the human brain.

"The third part of the book goes back to think about AI from a societal point of view – and there’s even a chapter on politics, which is obviously quite interesting at the moment, in the way that social media has effectively tried to polarise debates. Overall, it took me around 18 months to write the book.”

Michelle has worked as an NHS hospital doctor, psychiatrist and cognitive analytical therapist and currently lectures in medical ethics and law at the University of Cambridge. She is also a partner in a healthcare strategy consultancy company called Candesic.

She personally invests in AI early-stage companies and advises firms interested in emerging digital technology.

Many people feel apprehensive towards AI – and Prof Stephen Hawking famously warned in 2014 that it could “spell the end of the human race” by redesigning itself at an ever-increasing rate, Terminator-style.

“Lots of people think it’s going to take their jobs, others think it’s going to be the end of the world,” acknowledges Michelle. “But the next generation are living every day with artificial intelligence.

“So rather than being scared of it, I think that we need to take ownership of it – and part of that ownership is to make sure that what we do with it is the right thing to do with it. We should embrace it to figure out what problems we can solve with it.

Dr Michelle Tempest with her book. Picture: Keith Heppell
Dr Michelle Tempest with her book. Picture: Keith Heppell

“For instance, climate change brings a wealth of data but no one single human could ever put it all together, because from that point of view the human brain is more limited than computer power.

“So we should be trying to use it to spot patterns that us as humans won’t be able to spot because we just don’t have the processing power.”

And we should embrace this technological era – not shy away from it, Michelle suggests.

“Don’t be scared of artificial intelligence – you can add something,” she says.

“In fact, we need more people to add to the debate, because if we just have a unidimensional cohort of people developing artificial intelligence, then we’re going to get a unidimensional form of artificial intelligence.

“We need to get a much more diverse group of people involved in everything to do with AI, so I go and talk to schools. In fact, a lot of people have said that their kids have enjoyed the book.”

Big Brain Revolution: Artificial Intelligence Spy or Saviour? is available from austinmacauley.com.

Read more:

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Stephen Hawking Centre in Cambridge collaborates on The Universe Unravelled streaming series with Discovery+

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