EIE18: DIGIT Speaks to Science Champion Dr Quentin Cooper

Quentin Cooper

Science journalist, BBC radio presenter, science facilitator and author Dr Quentin Cooper recently spoke to DIGIT about his opinions on tech trends, AI and STEM Education.

Dr Quentin Cooper has been described as “quite the best thing on radio” by Bill Bryson, and “the world’s most enthusiastic man” by The Times. He also happens to be the host of EIE 18, which takes place on April 19th in Edinburgh university’s historic McEwan Hall.

Quentin is no stranger to Edinburgh, having studied AI and psychology at the university. Despite having hosted EIE for the last several years, the 2018 event will mark Quentin’s first return to McEwan Hall since he was awarded his honorary doctorate from the University of Edinburgh in 2013.

DIGIT: You say you studied AI back when it was still new and emerging, but where is the field of AI now?

Quentin: In my opinion, AI is a very hubristic field which, back when I was doing it, was full of people that thought we were only ten years away from computers that could think like a human. But as it turns out trying to emulate human intelligence is a far more complex task than people realise – recreating millions of years of human evolution in a lab is not easy.

So, on one hand, AI has made great leaps and bounds but on the other, if you go talk to people they commonly have this misconception that robots are much more advanced than they are. They think we are already at the level of C3PO and R2D2, but we are so far off that.

This misunderstanding makes it harder for researchers when they try to obtain funding. Often, the ones giving out the money erroneously assume AI is much further ahead than it really is.

DIGIT: Why do you think people are getting it so wrong?

Quentin: Our interaction with Sci-Fi has skewed our perception of what AI can really do. People often think the future will be an extrapolation of the past. That’s why most old Sci-Fi shows inaccurately predict what the future will be like. While they envisioned teleporters in the future, they failed to predict credit cards. And we are making amazing progress in so many areas, but it’s so out of step with what the public imagination is as to what the future will bring, it is kind of scary.

One of the great things about the EIE is that it brings together the big ideas and big money, where the scene convenes if you like, to make those advances happen so that AI can progress.

DIGIT: Which current tech trends interest you right now?

Quentin: The honest answer is I will find out at the end of EIE18, ask me again after the closing dinner and I will have a better idea. It is always an enlightening event and I always come away learning something new.

The trends that I like are the ones that give me hope for the future and improve people’s lives, it can be an app to improve your golf performance, an app to help change the lives of diabetes sufferers or to create something that helps to reduce the running costs of a lorry fleet.

One of the initiatives I am involved with looks to address climate impact and introduces people who’ve got ideas for high-tech start-ups that will in some way have a positive impact on climate change and ecological issues.

DIGIT: What are your thoughts on the current STEM Education problem?

Quentin: I think we look at the problem backwards, we ask ourselves how can we get school children interested in STEM? In reality, kids are born excited about science but somewhere along the line we manage to make it dull, boring, irrelevant or formulaic and they lose that excitement.

Of course, there is a level of complexity which you need if we are to produce the next generation of physicists, tech entrepreneurs and engineers. However, you also need to let them take part in the fun of the science such as the experiments and the demonstrations.

My job is as a science communicator to bridge the communication gap between the scientists and the young audience. You don’t get history communicators or geography communicators, we have science communicators because we make such a mess of talking to people about science.

There is a scientific dimension to everything and we need to make that connection between the science and what people are interested in, we must make it relevant and engaging.

EIE 18

EIE, Engage Invest Exploit, is Scotland’s premier technology investor showcase. It features the most innovative data-driven tech companies emerging from Scotland, the UK and beyond. Visitors to EIE can:

  • network with fellow investors and entrepreneurs
  • meet 60 pitching companies seeking investment
  • hear from industry thought leaders through our carefully selected keynotes
  • experience the vibrant tech scene and ecosystem that is putting Scotland on the map for technology innovation

EIE 18 takes place at Edinburgh University’s McEwan Hall on April 19th 2018. Registration has closed and only a very few standby tickets remain. Find out more on the EIE website.

DIGIT would like to thank Quentin for being entirely awesome…

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