About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

The call comes from Nesta’s Chief Executive Geoff Mulgan on the opening day of ‘FutureFest’ at Tobacco Dock in London, which brings together 4000 people to discuss how to shape the future. Futurefest has hosted debates on AI over the last few years and this year’s festival includes the government’s newly appointed chair of the Office of AI - Tabitha Goldstaub - and former deputy PM Nick Clegg.

Meanwhile, a new YouGov survey reveals deep public disquiet about artificial intelligence, with over 40% saying AI is an equal or bigger threat to mankind than nuclear weapons, and 52% supporting some sort of international regulation, as is currently the case with nuclear and chemical weapons. The survey also shows that a minority are happy for AI/robots to help with personal tasks like cleaning the home (40%) or spray tanning (24%); and almost 1 in 7 (14%) who have ever worked said that a robot with AI could be a better line manager to them personally than their previous or current manager. But a majority remain sceptical.

Nesta is calling for three shifts to ensure AI empowers the public, not just government or big business:

  • first a shift in public funding. There is still very little serious investment in public benefit AI, let alone tools that can directly empower citizens, consumers or workers. UKRI and other funders now have a chance to put that right.
  • second public engagement. Nesta has been running sessions with the public exploring dilemmas on AI and health, building on good work by others including the RSA and Royal Society. This needs to be grown, otherwise a backlash will mount;
  • third global governance: the UK now needs to start leading global debates about principles, codes of conduct and new institutions to guide the global AI industry towards better serving the public

Commenting at the opening of FutureFest, Geoff Mulgan said:

"AI offers enormous opportunities. But the industry and researchers risk repeating the mistakes made by other industries - like genetically modified crops and nuclear power - which failed to think hard enough about who benefits. We need more action - on investment, policy and skills - to ensure the UK, and Europe, don’t fall far behind the US and China in AI. But we also need a big shift of direction so that the public are convinced that AI really will enhance their lives”.

“For fifty years the majority of funding for AI has come from the military, and more recently big business. The public interest has been a low priority and very little AI development has been designed to empower citizens. The UK government is taking welcome action to boost the AI industry, and is attending to questions of ethics, but this poll confirms the risk that AI will go the way of GM crops and nuclear power - with public distrust blocking potential benefits.”

This year’s FutureFest features an array of high profile speakers ranging from Grammy award-winning musician Imogen Heap, to comedian and mental health activist Ruby Wax, London’s Night Csar Amy Lamé, former deputy Prime Minister Sir Nick Clegg, and Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Speaking at the opening of the festival Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced ShareLab Scotland, a new £172,000 scheme to award grants to support innovative ‘grass roots’ ideas which use digital platforms or apps to expand the ‘sharing economy’ to create more social benefits.

ShareLab Scotland will be run by Nesta, and help discover and support early stage projects that use online matching or exchange services to help individuals and communities unlock idle or underused resources - marrying up ‘haves’ with ‘wants’ to contribute to Scotland’s vision of a fairer, more socially responsible collaborative economy.

Launching ShareLab Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon said: “The Scottish Government believe that innovation is central to our future, and in recent years I have made promoting innovation a major focus of our economic policy.

“However, governments have to ensure that our social policies respond to the technological and economic changes that we promote. We can’t just promote innovation in our economic policy - we also have to adopt innovation in our social policies.

“The collaborative economy brings together individuals and communities in new and innovative ways. There is huge opportunity for Scotland in this area, particularly given some of our geographic challenges and the potential benefits it can bring for tourism and transport in more remote areas. To help achieve this, I am pleased to launch ShareLab Scotland. This £172,000 fund will help new partnerships benefit both our societies and the economy.”

Nesta is a leading global authority in the area of AI and public engagement, and is working with public services, policy-makers, cities and business around the world to research and trial public involvement in shaping how services and infrastructure using AI and robotics are developed.

In February 2018, Nesta’s Chief Executive, Geoff Mulgan set out a roadmap for AI, outlining 10 areas of change in which AI is likely to inform decision-making, whether at the level of policy, implementation or use in public services: https://www.nesta.org.uk/blog/a-roadmap-for-ai-10-ways-governments-will-change-and-what-they-risk-getting-wrong/

Nesta has been working for many years - through investment, research and practical projects - to ensure AI delivers benefit to the public. A summary of Nesta’s work in this area can be found here: https://www.nesta.org.uk/project/artificial-intelligence/.

Nesta proposed a Machine Intelligence Commission in 2016 and this is now being implemented by the government in the form of the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation: https://www.nesta.org.uk/blog/a-machine-intelligence-commission-for-the-uk/


Geoff Mulgan is available for interview at FutureFest.

For further information, interviews and image requests, please contact the Nesta media team at [email protected] or Juliet Grant on 07866 949047 or Nigel Campbell on 07866 973064.

Notes to Editors

About the YouGov Survey

The YouGov poll, commissioned by the innovation foundation, Nesta found that:

  • 41% of people say that AI poses the same or a greater threat to mankind than nuclear weapons, whilst 42% say it poses the same or a greater threat as chemical weapons
  • Over half the population (52%) would support international regulation or limitation of AI to certain countries, as is done with nuclear technology and chemical weapons.
  • Attitudes to AI-enabled robots performing personal or intimate interactions are very mixed; spray tanning, massage and providing financial advice are more acceptable than GP consultations, dental work or gynaecology.

The survey also revealed reservations about the use of robots with AI in home life:

  • 24% would not like a robot to help with any tasks around the home
  • 13% said they would most like a robot to do their laundry/ironing
  • only 3% would most like a robot butler/maid in their home.

Even gardening was not a popular choice for automated help, at 8%. Cleaning was the exception - 40% said they would most like a robot to help with this.

In the workplace, almost 1 in 7 people who have ever worked (14%) said that a robot with AI could be a better line manager to them personally than their previous or current manager. 39% of those who have ever performed admin tasks in their current or previous job were happy for a robot to perform them and around 1 in 4 who have ever performed these tasks in a job were happy for robots to perform tasks in uncomfortable environments (51%) or work unsociable hours/long shifts (37%).

When it comes to computers having a conversation with someone on your behalf and sounding exactly like you, 18% said that they would happy for AI to phone in sick for work for them, whilst only 7% would he happy for a ‘bot’ to call a friend or colleague to change plans and 6% to wish someone happy birthday or anniversary. However, overall, 69% of people would not like a computer to have a conversation on their behalf.

Attitudes to robots performing personal or intimate interactions such as beauty treatments or medical procedures vary widely. 1 in 4 (24%) said they would be happy for a ‘bot’ to perform spray tanning and 1 in 6 (17%) were happy for a robot to perform massage - but only 1 in 10 would be happy for a robot waxing procedure. The human touch seems to be important to people when it comes to health and medical interactions, with only 13% saying they were happy for a ‘bot to perform a sexual health test, 12% chiropody, 8% dental work and for 6% of women, gynaecological examinations. 50% of people said they would not like any personal or sensitive interactions to be performed by a robot with AI.

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Two surveys were carried out online. The figures of both surveys have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+). Fieldwork for the first survey was undertaken between 13th - 14th June 2018 and total sample size was 2022 adults. Fieldwork for the second survey was undertaken between 14th – 15th June 2018 and total sample size was 2058 adults. At each question respondents were given some background information on the topic. For full results pleased contact the Nesta press office (details above)

About FutureFest

Nesta’s FutureFest is one of Europe’s biggest festivals of the future, running over two days on 6th and 7th July at Tobacco Dock in London’s Docklands. It brings together artists, politicians, comedians and activists to explore alternative futures through more than 80 talks, performances, debates and immersive experiences across 5 stages.

This year’s headline speakers include Grammy award winner Imogen Heap, Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, comedian and mental health campaigner Ruby Wax, spoken work artist Akala, former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, London culture Csar Amy Lamé, journalist Paul Mason, extra-terrestrial life researcher Clara Souza Silva, Michelin-star chef Nurdin Topham, writer and lecturer Douglas Rushkoff, and political historian and commentator Sir Anthony Seldon. They will be debating topics as diverse as the changing nature of British identity, the future of our cities, urban food foraging, how women are shaping the future, gender and robotics, and how to stay human in the age of machines.

FutureFest also features interactive and immersive exhibits. The audience can gamble with the private contents of their smartphone at the data casino, take a walk through the FutureFest Garden which reimagines our relationship with nature in the city, and see a live demo by Imogen Heap of her Creative Passport which uses blockchain technology to create a digital identity and a connective hub for music makers and related services.

FutureFest is a non-profit initiative aimed at bringing future thinking to the public realm, so that everyone can benefit. FutureFest dares to ask the most pressing questions about the future - challenging the status quo and imagining a better world. We believe that by talking about the future we enhance people’s capacity to shape it.

Since 2013, FutureFest has attracted more than 9,000 visitors - with the community for each festival growing from 1,000 to 4,500 attendees.

Nesta, the innovation foundation behind FutureFest

FutureFest is the flagship festival from Nesta - a global innovation foundation that backs new ideas to tackle the big challenges of our time: from the pressures of an ageing population to stretched public services and a fast-changing jobs market. Using knowledge, networking, funding and innovation skills, Nesta grows new ideas that can change the world for the better.

Nesta is a UK charity but works globally, and always in partnership with others - including governments, businesses and charities. Nesta scans the horizon to find the emerging technologies and radical ideas that will help tackle the next generation of challenges we face. FutureFest draws on Nesta’s cutting-edge research and global network of innovators - across fields such as health, education, the arts and creative economy, economic growth, and innovation in government.

To find out more about Nesta visit nesta.org.uk

Nesta is a registered charity in England and Wales 1144091 and Scotland SC042833

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