Power to the People: Hands-On Workshop Helps UK Lawmakers Explain AI

by Stuart Wilson

Imagine equipping some of those making policy decisions about the future of artificial intelligence with the ability to make AI themselves.

This week, members of the U.K. Parliament, peers and government staff participated in a neural network workshop run by NVIDIA and innovation consultancy Big Innovation Centre, or BIC, at London’s Portcullis House.

The workshop is part of the All Parties Parliamentary Group on Artificial Intelligence, set up in January 2017 to explore the impact and implications of AI, and spearheaded by BIC.

“Government policy makers and advisors are rarely technology experts, they need practical, accessible help to understand AI so they in turn can help their constituents grasp it,” said Professor Birgitte Anderson, CEO and co-founder of BIC.

Growing the U.K.’s AI economy is the most important of four “Grand Challenges” which will improve people’s lives and the country’s productivity, according to the U.K. Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy.

To shape the policies, regulations and budgets required to thrive in the age of AI, government stakeholders need help.

Learning from the Best

The session kicked off with an overview of the basic principles and vocabulary of AI from NVIDIA’s Stuart Wilson, who leads the company’s AI and supercomputing efforts in Europe.

Then participants got hands-on with a 30-minute Neural Network Lab, in which they were tutored through the steps of building their own neural network. Neural networks, computing algorithms modeled on the pathways of the brain, are the building blocks of modern AI.

Engineers from the University of Sheffield Research Software Engineering group guided participants through the process. Attendees also heard speakers from U.K. organizations engaged in three sectors AI is already transforming: healthcare, transportation and smart cities.

Dr Parashkev Nachev, from the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, spoke about the near-immediate gains that AI could bring to the UK’s Healthcare sector. Cambridge-based Five AI told participants how autonomous vehicles will impact the economy in surprising ways. And Milton Keynes City Council explained how it is actively using AI to improve the lives of its citizens.

Understanding the Grand Challenge of AI

“We saw an opportunity to work with NVIDIA in addressing this need,” BIC’s Anderson said. “The goal of the workshop is for participants to take the knowledge they’ve gained back to their constituency and introduce the term ‘artificial intelligence’ to their local communities.”