Beyond 2019 by Clare Walsh

The Beyond Conference looks at research and development in the creative industries and this year’s focus was AI.

I was funded to represent the CDT at this year’s Beyond Conference in the stunning Assembly Rooms in the heart of Edinburgh. This was unlike many AI conferences, with a fairly even balance between examples of how the creative industries are currently using AI to create art, and how important AI issues can be shared with a wider audience through creative works. The number crunching of Machine Learning and the performing arts can seem completely disconnected – not the case!

Some may remember Pip Thornton from the PhD poster presentation at Web Science 2018, in Amsterdam. She’s brought her research What are Words Worth to Google? to life with an art installation, live streaming the current market value of the price of the words from classic poems in the Google search engine. I queued – and yes, they were lining up in every break – to get a receipt for the price of the Web Science Institute slogan. Pip became interested in this project when her own query on wives + girlfriends + sexist was helpfully corrected by the Google search engine to present her with various top ten sexiest wives and girlfriends. She wanted to know why. See if you can spot Pip’s slight dig at the Google tax records at the end!

Story teller from the future, Karen Palmer, summed up pretty much all of the arguments for wider participation in AI in about 15 minutes. Her powerful performance Artificial Intelligence or Artificial Stupidity showed the dangers of excluding social groups from the development of AI. At one moment, the whole audience gasped in shock. AI ethics can sometimes be a difficult sell, but Karen has found a way to hit home and leave a memorable impression. You might want to check her TED talk on the topic.

Although a lot of serious issues were covered, the conference was anything but dry. The topics ranged from presenting a dancer’s views on biometric tracking, to practical business applications of the Edinburgh entertainment listings data base. It was a reminder that every field needs to contribute to debates on the Web. Every discipline brings unique skills and insights to the table.

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