A statue in a VR mask
Credit: Adobe

Join BAFTA award winning documentary filmmaker Sheila Hayman in conversation with John Naughton


17:00 GMT

Thursday, 30 November

St Catharine’s College, Trumpington Street, Cambridge CB2 1RL

Register now

Are we on the verge of computers cleverer than any human, in every way; what’s sometimes called ‘Artificial General Intelligence’?

To teach a computer to recognise ‘cat’, you have to feed it millions of lines of code, turned into images of cats, doing all the wacky things cats do. A human toddler only needs to encounter two or three cats, and she’ll recognise any cat, in any situation, as a cat – forever.

Our brain, the most complex structure in the known universe, runs on about fifteen watts of completely renewable energy. And unlike a computer, we don’t need more energy to learn new things.

A narrative is developing that automation and ‘progress’ are one and the same. Is this leading us up the wrong path? In doing so, are we ignoring the many other kinds of progress we urgently need, to avoid epidemic mental and physical illness, and a fried planet?

At this event, Sheila Hayman will explain why disaster is not inevitable: we just need a new understanding of intelligence. One that values the human and the artificial for what each is good at, and helps humans flourish.

Trying to give computers human intelligence is – Senseless.

About Sheila Hayman

Sheila Hayman is a member of the Advisory Board for the Minderoo Centre for Technology and Democracy.

Sheila has written and directed documentary films for the BBC, Channel 4, ARTE, Beijing TV and others, winning a BAFTA, Time Out Documentary Series of the Year, Arts Documentary of the Year nomination and a Robert Kennedy award.

She has been UK Young Journalist of the Year, the BAFTA/Fulbright Fellow in Los Angeles and a columnist for The Guardian newspaper.

Many of her films have focused on our relationship with technology. Her 1992 BBC film, ‘Horizon: The Electronic Frontier’ asked ‘What would the world look like with information as money?’ and foresaw ubiquitous surveillance, the computer in your pocket and DeepFakes, including their political risks. In 2017, as Director’s Fellow at the MIT Media Lab, she embarked on ‘Senseless’, about the difference between human and machine intelligence. In 2020 her work on the carbon footprint of ‘AI’ led to her being Artist in Residence at PIK Potsdam, Europe’s premier research institute on the climate emergency.

She also coordinates a creative writing and performance group at UK NGO Freedom from Torture, working to help refugees as her father was helped in the 1930s.

About John Naughton

John Naughton is co-founder of the Minderoo Centre for Technology and Democracy. By background a systems engineer, he is an academic and a newspaper columnist whose interests lie in the societal impact of digital technology. He is Emeritus Professor of the Public Understanding of Technology at the Open University, Director of the Wolfson Press Fellowship Programme and the Technology columnist of the *Observer*.

At CRASSH, he was co-director (with Sir Richard Evans and Professor David Runciman) of a five-year Leverhulme-funded research project on Conspiracy and Democracy (2013–2018) and with David Runciman ran a two-year (2014–2016) research project on Technology and Democracy . He has written extensively on technology and its role in society, and is the author of a well-known history of the Internet — ‘A Brief History of the Future’ (Phoenix, 2000). His most recent book, ‘From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg: what you really need to know about the Internet’, is published by Quercus.

About the Minderoo Centre for Technology and Democracy

The Minderoo Centre for Technology and Democracy is an independent team of academic researchers at the University of Cambridge, who are radically rethinking the power relationships between digital technologies, society and our planet.

We are based in CRASSH (University of Cambridge Centre for Research in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences).


Sheila Hayman, Advisory Board, Minderoo Centre for Technology and Democracy, University of Cambridge (speaker)

John Naughton, Minderoo Centre for Technology and Democracy, University of Cambridge (host)


17:00: Public event start

18:00: Public event end