Gina standing at a white podium at the VivaTech 2024 New York Times Debate stage.

Prof Gina Neff speaks about the social capacity of technological change and highlights the key role people will play in revealing the best of AI.

This year’s Viva Technology (VivaTech) event, Europe’s biggest startup and tech event, took place from 22 to 25 May 2024 in Paris. The event brought together startups, technology leaders, large companies, and investors to explore disruptive topics in tech and address the world’s greatest challenges. This year’s themes included artificial intelligence, deeptech,  future societies, and internet and democracy (among others).

Preparing Your Company for the AI Revolution

Our Executive Director Professor Gina Neff spoke at the ‘Preparing Your Company for the AI Revolution‘ session on the first day of the event. Prof Neff talked about a range of topics including responsible AI, the future of work, and the environmental impacts of AI technologies. She explained the need for better regulations (citing the TUC’s AI Bill in the UK) to address the potential harms of AI. She also underscored the importance of capacity building to help companies think about the principles of responsible AI and ensure they make choices today that put them on solid footing to benefit from future technologies.

Significantly, Prof Neff argued for AI models that do not put communities and reputations at risk, and do not cause more harm in parts of the world that are struggling to overcome issues like famine, natural disasters, or war.

“An AI future that works for society cannot be based on the small companies buying services from a few large companies. We cannot build an AI future where the cost to play is a billion dollars or more – this future won’t work for the kinds of problems the world is facing…there has to be a greater sense of responsibility.”

Prof Neff was joined by panelists Corinne de Bilbao, Corporate Vice President at Microsoft France, Peter O’Brien, Technology Editor at France 24, Beatriz Sanz Sáiz of EY – Global AI & Data, and Xavier Vasques, Vice President & CTO at IBM.

Watch a recording of the session at VivaTech 2024.

The New York Times Debate: AI Will Reveal the Best of Humanity

The New York Times debate, inspired by the traditional Oxford-style debate, convenes speakers for and against a motion, alongside a jury for high-level commentary. Its goal is to shed light on the key tensions of a complex issue in a dynamic format underscoring the importance of balanced dialogue.

This year’s debate prompted VivaTech attendees to question what we consider most human: our histories, cultures, values, friendship, motherhood, love, empathy, relationship to truth, and more. It posed key questions about the future of AI: Will our humanity be triggered into consolidating and redefining itself to survive and preserve its legacy on earth? Will this moment of confrontation and existential risk reveal the best or the worst of us? Will we adapt and thrive in a new social contract with machines, or will we give into our worst instincts and add fuel to AI’s fire?

Prof Neff participated in the debate, alongside ‘against’ team members Claudia Schulz, Co-Founder of Sparkle Tank and Oleksandr Bornyakov, Deputy Minister IT Industry Development at the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine, arguing against the motion: this House believes that AI will not reveal the best of humanity.

Prof Neff argued that the biggest problems we face are going to be solved by people, not AI. It will take the best of humanity to make AI work because AI is a social revolution as well as a technical one. We must consider what will happen to our public sphere, our schools, jobs, and creative content.

“AI cannot deal with the problems of society – that is for us to do. It will take the best of us coming together to make the most of the transformative potential of AI technologies. But if we don’t come together to do that work, these tools will not bring out the best of us.”

In short, AI is not going to reveal the best of humanity, people are going to reveal the best of AI. AI can be used to scam, kill, and mislead which means these technologies will only reveal the best of humanity if we champion the best of humanity right now, and that takes people power.

VivaTech audience members voted at the conclusion of the debate and selected the ‘against’ team as the winners.

Watch a recording of the debate at VivaTech 2024.