Fountain Issue 24
Professor Huw Price (e2011) explores the reality of living with artificial intelligence.
Contents Issue 24 REGULARS:
College News Welcome to the Michaelmas 2017 edition of The Fountain. Over the
long vacation hundreds of you have returned to College for major events,
Profile: Dr Nikhil Nair
ranging from annual gatherings to a Winnie the Pooh family sing-a-long
and, most recently, for talks from four pioneers in the medical world at TrinTalk: Medicine & Technology. Several Trinity Association events have been held in College, London and Japan as we try to involve more of our ever-expanding global community. Looking ahead, we have a full events diary over the coming months, a calendar of which you will find on the back page. We hope that you will find an opportunity to join us at one of them. In this edition, we reflect on remarkable contributions made by Trinity members. Building on his commitment to the financial stability of the College, we explore how the new Bradfield Centre at Trinity’s Cambridge Science Park honours the legacy of Sir John Bradfield (1925–2014). Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald’s (e2002), innovative ‘pill on a string’, designed to detect oesophageal cancer, will soon be given its first major clinical trial in 9,000 patients across the UK. Looking above, we learn of an unprecedented view of the Milky Way from Professor Lister Staveley-Smith (1978). Another perspective on the future is presented by Professor Huw Price (e2011), who reflects on how the human race may soon be sharing the
Building on a legacy…
‘A pill on a string’
An unprecedented view of the Milky Way
Supporting African scientists
How to share the planet with ‘artificial intelligence’
planet with highly sophisticated ‘artificial intelligence’. Finally we profile Dr Nikhil Nair (1994), blind since the age of nine, who confounded the admissions panel at the University of Cambridge when he applied to take a chemistry degree. No less remarkably, although not to those who have come into his orbit, Nikhil gained the top first-class honours degree in his subject at Trinity, and one of the highest firsts overall.
The views expressed in The Fountain do not necessarily represent the views of Trinity College, Cambridge.
We hope that you will also enjoy a new feature, the Trinity Cryptic
Acknowledgments Trinity College would like to thank all those who have supported the production of this edition of The Fountain.
Crossword, set for us by Tim King (1980). As always, please let us have
© Copyright Trinity College 2017
your feedback on The Fountain.
Front Cover © istock
Dr Michael Banner Chair of Alumni Relations & Development
The Fountain | Issue 24
Dr Barnali Ghosh (1999), has been included in this year’s Empower Future Leaders list, presented by the Financial Times.
Jo da Silva OBE (1985), has been awarded The Institution of Structural Engineers’ 2017 Gold Medal.
Hugo Ramambason (2014), has been confirmed as the Cambridge University Boat Club President for the 2018 Boat Race campaign.
Sir Rabinder Singh (1982), has been appointed to the Court of Appeal.
Congratulations to Yining Nie (2011), who has been awarded the 2017–2019 Bloch Fellowship (the highest student honour), by the Linguistic Society of America.
George Whyte (1947), was made Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur.
Dr Antti Matikkala (2004), has published The Roulette of Honour – the Highest Finnish Orders to Foreigners 1941–1944.
The Hon. Mr Justice Badar Ahmed (1975), is the new Chief Justice of J&K High Court.
Dr Umar Saif (1998), won the British Council Alumni Award in the Professional Achievement Category.
Thiam Guan Tan (1983), has co-discovered the exoplanet LHS 1140b, a super-Earth in the habitable zone of a nearby star. LHS 1140b is one of the most promising targets found so far in the search for life outside our solar system.
Global Alumni News
College News 40 YEARS OF WOMEN AT TRINITY: New photographic portraits When pupils from a local primary school visited Trinity recently, one girl looked around the imposing dining hall and asked: ‘Why are there no ladies on the walls?’ Schools Liaison Officer, Caitlin de Jode (2013), explained that 40 years ago, for the first time since Trinity was founded by Henry VIII in 1546, women were allowed to become members of College – as
postgraduate students in 1976, Fellows in 1977 and undergraduates in 1978. Consequently, the visual representation of women at Trinity is limited.
He was Trinity’s Fellow Commoner in the Creative Arts – the first filmmaker and photographer in the 50-year history of this fellowship.
In a bid to change that, and as part of the 40th anniversary of women’s arrival at the College, a series of photographic portraits of female Fellows of Trinity were recently exhibited in the Wren Library.
The exhibition featured 20 female Fellows of Trinity including: Professor of European Law and Employment Law, Catherine Barnard, who is Senior Tutor at the College; Professor of History and Philosophy of Science, Sachiko Kusukawa, who is the Dean; Professor of Materials Science, Judith Driscoll;
The late Eugenio Polgovsky was commissioned to make the portraits.
Award winning Fellow … Trinity Fellow, Dr Cameron Petrie (e2011), has been awarded a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship. The award recognises outstanding academics who are excellent communicators and champions of their field. For the past 10 years Dr Petrie, who is Reader in South Asian and Iranian Archaeology at Cambridge, has been exploring how South Asians lived in north-west India between 2000 and 300 BC under the auspices of the Land, Water and Settlement project. This innovative initiative involved archaeologists and geographers from the UK and India who investigated the rise and fall of civilisations around the Indus and Ganges rivers. As well as enabling him to publish collaborative research from the project, Dr Petrie and colleagues from Banaras Hindu University are planning public
lectures in India and Pakistan. Dr Petrie will speak at the Festival of Science in Cambridge on 23 October 2017. The groundbreaking research from Land, Water and Settlement provides evidence that climate change impacted the Indus region and may have played a role in the decline of cities of the Bronze Age Indus civilisation. Traditionally, environmental changes were assumed to have played a pivotal role in this process, but now has it been possible, using the different tools and approaches of geographers and archaeologists, to dig up the evidence and analyse the data to prove it.
Dr Petrie said: “We have demonstrated that the Indus region was extremely variable in terms of climate and ecology. This suggests that the Indus populations made various choices that enabled them to adapt to this diverse landscape, particularly in terms of growing crops, but also cultural behaviour. We have direct radiocarbon dates for the use of rice and a range of other summer cereals and pulses, which demonstrate that Indus populations had a much more varied diet than previously known, which was comprised of crops selected to grow in a diversity of environments.” Understanding how and why ancient societies adapted to environmental threats resonates with today’s debates about how to respond to climate change. “The project gives us an ideal opportunity to learn from past examples of success and failure in the face of a variable and changing climate,” Dr Petrie told us.
From left to right: Emma Widdis, Alyce Mahon, Rebecca Fitzgerald, Marian Holness, Valerie Gibson, Catherine Barnard and Judith Driscoll.
Reader in Modern and Contemporary Art History, Dr Alyce Mahon, who is Director of Studies in History of Art; and Head of High Energy Physics at the Cavendish Laboratory, Professor Valerie Gibson, who is Director of Studies in Physics.
“Our students are surrounded by images of men, most notably with Henry VIII at the head of the hall. This is our history, and we value it, but Trinity has other stories to tell, now and in the future.”
Reader in Slavonic Studies, Dr Emma Widdis, who is Director of Studies in Modern and Medieval Languages at Trinity, said:
Members of the College were deeply saddened by news of the death in London, on Friday 11 August 2017, of Eugenio Polgovsky Ezcurra, our
Fellow Commoner in Creative Arts (2015–17). Eugenio’s generous spirit touched many people. His films and photographs were much admired in Trinity and beyond, and his great gifts as a documentary film-maker were recognised in the world at large. Our thoughts and warmest sympathies go out to his family. A full obituary will be published in this year’s Annual Record.
Trinity students win prizes in cyber challenge
C2C was co-founded in 2015 by Trinity Fellow, Professor Frank Stajano (e2015), and MIT Principal Research Scientist Dr Howard Shrobe, who is Director of MIT’s CyberSecurity@CSAIL. This year, C2C was held at the University of Cambridge Computer Lab and Trinity College. Dimitrije (pictured above left), was part of the ‘CrypticCrushers’ team that won second place in the overall competition, and will share the £4,500 prize. Dimitrije will be President of Cambridge University Cyber Security Society, 2017–2018. He won first prize in the individual heats of Inter-Ace Cyberchallenge 2016, a competition for UK universities. Billy, and his teammate Giovanni Cherubin from Royal Holloway, came first in a sub-challenge event at C2C this year. Billy said:
Photographs: Geoff Reardon and Frank Stajano.
Trinity computer science students Dimitrije Erdeljan (2015), and Billy Cooper (2015), have won prizes in Cambridge2Cambridge (C2C), in which 110 students from 25 UK and US universities competed in a simulated cyber crisis. “The NCC Group challenge that Giovanni and I won was particularly tough. It was one of the most fun things on offer at C2C, and I’m glad we managed to do well in it.” Professor Stajano said the event had been ‘a great success’, dramatically expanding on the 25 students from Cambridge and MIT at the inaugural event last year. He said: “We want to reach out much further. I hope these enterprising and enthusiastic 110 students from around the world will now act as ambassadors, mentors and role models for young girls and boys who are thinking about what to study at university. Computer
security is a thrilling and fascinating subject, a mental chess game in which you must always be one step ahead of a devious adversary. Kids who like to solve puzzles and exercise their creativity and wit should seriously consider computing and cyber security as an academic subject that will open the doors to an intellectually stimulating and financially rewarding career. We need many more of these bright people to defend the digital society of tomorrow from the cyber-attacks you read about in the papers every month.” C2C 2017, endowed with over £20,000 in cash prizes, was supported by the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre, the UK Cabinet Office, and the US National Science Foundation.
The Fountain | Issue 24
Building on a legacy… Having opened in the spring of 2017, the Bradfield Centre is a collaborative entrepreneurial community of technology start-ups and scale-ups housed in a stunning building in Trinity’s Cambridge Science Park. Named after Trinity’s former Senior Bursar, Sir John Bradfield (1925–2014), the Centre will incubate science and tech entrepreneurs to help their businesses flourish. It builds on the legacy of Sir John, who played a pivotal role of founding the Cambridge Science Park 46 years ago. The Bradfield Centre’s facilities are designed to accelerate businesses to new levels. The aim is to attract smart, ambitious, like-minded entrepreneurs and companies from both Cambridge and around the world; co-locate them in scalable, state-of-the-art facilities; immerse them in a collaborative, entrepreneurial culture; and connect them to investors, partners, mentors, advisers and potential customers. Accelerator programmes will be run on a wide range of business and technical topics. These will be a core component of the Bradfield Centre’s offer, which is designed with one goal in mind: to help grow Cambridge-based businesses. Occupiers of the Bradfield Centre benefit from being part of the Science Park’s 5000-strong community. The
Park is currently home to over 80 companies ranging from successful spin-outs from the University of Cambridge to multinational
corporations. A programme of continuous investment enables the Park to evolve to meet the needs of its occupiers. As companies outgrow the Bradfield Centre they will be offered expansion space elsewhere on the Park. The Bradfield Centre is currently in “soft launch” mode, but it’s already busy. There are 20 firms in residence – including Cambridge Wireless, Cambridge Spark and String (they made the Dulux AR app) – housing 100 entrepreneurs.
Above: Francis Shiner (Director at SDC), Bob Bradfield, Sir Gregory Winter, Sarah Bradfield.
The link between hospitality and entrepreneurial activity creates good synergy: the Bradfield Centre is a very positive environment to be in, with breakout spaces, conference facilities, a café, an amphitheatre (under construction), and lots of light coming in – plus there are wonderful views of the lakes on the Science Park.
The Bradfield Centre’s facilities are designed to accelerate businesses to new levels. The aim is to attract smart, ambitious, like-minded entrepreneurs and companies from both Cambridge and around the world.
Master Sir Gregory Winter (1970), who himself is a successful scientific entrepreneur, said the Centre’s supportive environment would be a key benefit for innovators: “Many science start-up companies have their roots in academic departments in Cambridge. But there are limits to the support and space that academic departments can give to spinning out ideas and technologies for commercial application. There has always been space for small companies on the Science Park but in the Bradfield Centre we offer more than space. We aim to provide a nurturing commercial environment for translating science into successful companies, and for turning scientists into successful entrepreneurs.”
With £4.8 million from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and co-funding from Trinity College more than doubling this investment, the Centre has already attracted the interest of entrepreneurs and investors. Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson said: “This new centre builds on Trinity College’s great history of scientific discovery and will help to create new jobs locally.”
There will be an alumni launch event (TBC), in spring 2018 to celebrate the opening of the Bradfield Centre. More details will follow in due course. For additional information, please email email@example.com.
The Fountain | Issue 24
By Fiona Holland (1988)
‘Pill on a string’ enters third clinical trial The ‘pill on a string’ developed by Trinity Fellow, Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald (e2002), to detect early signs of oesophageal cancer, will be tested in a major clinical trial of 9,000 patients across the UK. This is the third trial for the Cytosponge and associated laboratory tests, which Professor Fitzgerald, who is Professor of Cancer Prevention at the Medical Research Council Cancer Unit at the University of Cambridge, has spent more than 20 years thinking about and developing. Oesophageal cancer is notoriously difficult to diagnose sufficiently early to treat effectively because the symptoms – ranging from heartburn and indigestion to feeling full and something ‘sticking’ when eating – are common. Speaking to Eddie Mair on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme, Professor Fitzgerald said the experience of
Above: Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald.
BBC journalist Steve Hewlett, who recently died of oesophageal cancer, was sadly common.
along the oesophagus. The whole thing takes five minutes – very simple and straightforward.”
Her innovation – a tiny sponge in a capsule the size of a multivitamin – may change all that. Instead of requiring a referral for an endoscopy in hospital, a patient in their GP surgery will swallow a capsule, which is attached to a string. The pill quickly dissolves and a sponge pops out.
Simple and straightforward it may be for patients, but the science behind the test is sophisticated and has taken years to refine to make it as accurate as possible.
As Professor Fitzgerald told us: “The nurse can retrieve the sponge in a few seconds and as it comes out it collects a very good cell sample – from the top of the stomach and all the way
“We test the cells for a specific protein that tells us whether there are signs of early cancer – we are trying to detect a pre-cancerous condition, called Barrett’s oesophagus. There are second tier tests we can do to be even more specific – to look for mutations in DNA, for example.”
“That is the whole nub of the problem really. Heartburn and indigestion is so common and the GP has to make a really difficult decision about which patients to refer for an endoscopy – you couldn’t possibly refer everybody with a bit of indigestion – so a lot of people with these symptoms just don’t get investigated.”
This third clinical trial will see half the patients treated according to current practice and the other half offered the Cytosponge. The aim is to gain feedback from patients who undergo the test, ensure it is cost effective, and that it could be rolled out to the NHS. “I see patients in my practice like Steve Hewlett and it is pretty grim. However good our medicines are, and they are getting an awful lot better, when patients present at an advanced stage it is very difficult to cure this disease. What I would like to see is the Cytosponge, or if not that, something else, to be successful, to turn things around for patients so we can improve early diagnosis of cancer of the oesophagus.”
The Fountain | Issue 24
An unprecedented view of the Milky Way Scientists have used two of the world’s largest telescopes to produce a new, super-detailed map of our galaxy. The map shows the concentration of stars and dwarf galaxies across the skies.
Astronomers in Germany and Australia, directed by Professor Lister StaveleySmith (1978), charted hydrogen – the most abundant element in space and the main component of stars and galaxies – to give an unprecedented view of the Milky Way. “We’ve been able to produce a whole-sky image that in many ways is greater than the sum of its parts,” Professor Lister Staveley-Smith of the International Center for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) told us. “The new map gives us a much more coherent view of the sky and enables a better understanding of the Milky Way.”
Staveley-Smith said the project took thousands of hours of telescope time over several years, involving around ten billion individual data points.
“Tiny clouds become visible that appear to have fuelled star formation in the Milky Way for billions of years,” he added.
The team used the Parkes Observatory in Australia and the Effelsberg 100m Radio Telescope in Germany, carefully matching results in overlapping scans of the sky.
“These objects are too dim and too small to be detected even in the other galaxies closest to us.”
“The data processing was an even greater task as we had to write our own software packages to carefully calibrate the data and subtract out spurious signals at each point in the sky,” Staveley-Smith said.
Containing up to 400 billion individual stars and with a diameter up to 180,000 light years across, the Milky Way is our galactic home, but we’re far from the centre of the action.
Below: A map of the Milky Way showing concentrations of hydrogen. The Magellanic Clouds can be seen at the lower right.
Our solar system is located around 27,000 light years from the Galactic Centre, where a supermassive black hole is believed to sit. Our detached location gives us a fantastic view of the galaxy, and the neighboring Andromeda and Magellanic Cloud galaxies, all of which can be seen in the new map. Light pollution makes the view difficult to see from much of Earth, however. 80% of Americans can’t see the Milky Way at all. The new map is the latest example of huge advances made in astronomy in recent years, thanks to new telescopes and data processing techniques. In July, a South African telescope revealed hundreds of galaxies in a tiny corner of the universe where only 70 had been seen before, while this month the Hubble Space Telescope upped the total number of observable galaxies to 2 trillion.
Containing up to 400 billion individual stars and with a diameter up to 180,000 light years across, the Milky Way is our galactic home, but we’re far from the centre of the action. Earlier this year, a team working with the APEX telescope in Chile produced a stunning new image of the Southern Hemisphere of the Galactic Plane, where a majority of the Milky Way’s mass lies. Staveley-Smith said the Milky Way map will form the basis of future studies of our galaxy, such as an upcoming project using China’s new 1,640-foot wide FAST dish.
Professor Lister Staveley-Smith (1978), read Natural Sciences at Trinity.
The Fountain | Issue 24
Supporting African scientists In spring 2017, a revolutionary four-day course was held at Trinity College to enable 15 African conservation scientists’ to develop new skills and knowledge to be successful in publishing their research. The course was created at Trinity thanks to a partnership between Professor Paul Brakefield (e2011), and Dr Rosie Trevelyan, Director of the Tropical Biology Association, with generous support from Roger Pilgrim’s (1975), Progress Foundation. Across Africa, scientists are doing research and generating data that could help to shape more effective policy and influence conservation decisions. However, African scientists face a range of barriers to getting their work into print, which means that their publication rates are disproportionately low compared to the amount of research they do. There were 196 applicants from 21 African countries for the four-day course. The 15 chosen participants came from eight countries spanning non-governmental organisations, universities, and government research departments.
Selection was based on those who had most to gain from attending the course at Trinity. All had carried out research and were ready to publish, but had encountered difficulties in getting their work into print. Over four days of interactive, practical learning, the participants gained knowledge and skills that they could apply to their work immediately. The workshop began with participants sharing their ideas on why it is important to publish their research, and the barriers they face in doing so. Participants assessed how well the workshop was addressing the barriers mid-way and at the end of the four days. The participants shared their ideas on why it is important to publish their research. They learnt - directly from Paul Craze, Editor of the renowned journal TREE – what editors look for, how the publishing process works, how to choose appropriate journals for their work, and how to deal with reviewers’ feedback.
“I had been in discussion with the College for some time about the possibility of providing financial support for an innovative and worthwhile project, so I was delighted when this Communications Skills course was proposed on behalf of Trinity and the Tropical Biology Association. It seemed to me that this offered an excellent opportunity for young scientists from all over sub-Saharan Africa to visit Cambridge, to network with each other and with others working in their field and to gain valuable advice in a crucial aspect of academic work.I also thought the College could gain from improving its profile with such a group and introduce a model for academic support that might well have much wider application. We agreed to provide financial support for a one-year pilot programme in the hope that afterwards, as a proven concept, it would gain the support of College alumni and others, allowing the programme to proceed in subsequent years. We were fortunate to spend some time with the participant group during the course and to experience at first hand their enthusiasm and to witness the clear benefits, both direct and indirect, being gained from attending, in line with our initial expectations.” Roger Pilgrim (1975)
Above: Bernard Cheruiyot Soi (Kenya) and Dr Rosie Trevelyan (TBA Director).
The researchers came to the course with work they had completed and written up in draft manuscripts. Discussing and re-working these manuscripts during the course, with input from teachers and peers, was central to the learning process, and one of the most appreciated aspects of the training. The focus was on how to write clearly and succinctly about scientific research, and how to structure this into a publishable paper. “This workshop has raised my confidence in communication skills. I will share the skills I learnt with students at my University”, said Amani Kitegile. “This experience fostered confidence in what we are doing. It was excellent”, said Zambian scientist Freddie Siangulube. Freddie has spent eight years working for the Zambian Forestry Department, gathering data on the impact of new legislation aimed at forest conservation for carbon sinks. His research shows how policy implementation is more successful where local communities are involved.
Below left: Just four days of TBA training in Cambridge transformed 15 African conservation scientists from a group of strangers lacking the know-how to get their research into print, into a supportive network with new skills, confidence and targets. Back row: Freddie Siangulube (Zambia), Netsai Margareth (Zimbabwe), Margaret Muriuki (Kenya), Abel Musana (Rwanda), Nerioya Akemien (Nigeria), Rajabu Mapunda (Tanzania), Adedoja Adebayo (Nigeria), Evariste Siangulube (Rwanda), Dr Rosie Trevelyan (TBA Director), Lovasoa Rakotozafy (Madagascar). Front row: Elelwani Nenzhelele (South Africa), Kelvin Ngongolo (Tanzania), Bernard soi (Kenya), Mary Warui (Kenya), Lovanomenjanahary Marline (Madagascar), Amani Kitegile (Tanzania).
Below right: (Foreground): Lovasoa, Nerioya and Evariste, from Madagascar, Nigeria and Rwanda respectively attend the Tropical Biology Association (TBA) course on scientific writing and publishing.
As the only Malagasy scientist working on her country’s endemic bryophytes, Lovanomenjanahary Marline found the course similarly positive. “What I am taking home is that it is possible to write for a wider audience, even though I am not working on something with popular appeal”. Running this course at Trinity also allowed the participants to attend the 2017 Student Conference in Conservation Science – an annual international three-day event, held in Cambridge, and co-organised by the TBA. The Conference welcomed 190 young research scientists from 59 countries. Alongside plenary talks from senior figures in the conservation world and practical workshops, students shared results from their work in a series of talks and posters ranging from human-wildlife conflict, habitat loss, biodiversity in disturbed landscapes, and the conservation of top predators. For Tanzanian scientist Kelvin Ngongolo, this was the first time he had presented his work at an international conference.
Above: The TBA worked with Jonathan on a previous project in Uganda to help increase the livelihood of farmers – by planting fruit trees, bee keeping and more conservation-friendly agriculture, such as digging ditches to stop soil erosion.
“Attending the Conservation Conference helped me to see and practise what we have learnt during the TBA Course. I could apply these skills in the real world, in terms of communicating scientific information”. The success of this course at Trinity shows that capacity building is a powerful tool for developing African conservation science.
The course was held at Trinity College in its entirety thanks to the generous support of the Progress Foundation. For more information about supporting similar initiatives, please contact Amy Trotter, Executive Director of Development & Alumni Relations, firstname.lastname@example.org. All images: © Cheryl-Samantha Owen
The Fountain | Issue 24
By Professor Huw Price (e2011)
How to share the planet with ‘artificial intelligence’ It’s time to prepare for the machinocene.
Freed of biological constraints, such as a brain that needs to fit through a human birth canal (and that runs on the power of a mere 20W lightbulb), non-biological machines might be much more intelligent than we are. What would this mean for us? The leading AI researcher Stuart Russell suggests that, for better or worse, it would be ‘the biggest event in human history’. Indeed, our choices in this century might have long-term consequences not only for our own planet, but for the galaxy at large, as the British Astronomer Royal and former Master Martin Rees (1960), has observed. The future of intelligence in the cosmos might depend on what we do right now, down here on Earth.
© John F Williams
Human-level intelligence is familiar in biological hardware – you’re using it now. Science and technology seem to be converging, from several directions, on the possibility of similar intelligence in non-biological systems. It is difficult to predict when this might happen, but most artificial intelligence (AI), specialists estimate that it is more likely than not within this century.
biological as well as non-biological. Second, AI has now reached a point where it’s immensely useful for many tasks. So it has huge commercial value, and this is driving huge investment – a process that seems bound to continue, and probably accelerate.
Should we be concerned? People have been speculating about machine intelligence for generations – so what’s new?
One way or another, then, we are going to be sharing the planet with a lot of non-biological intelligence. Whatever it brings, we humans face this future together. We have an obvious common interest in getting it right. And we need to nail it the first time round. Barring some calamity that ends our technological civilisation without entirely finishing us off, we’re not going to be coming this way again.
Well, two big things have changed in recent decades. First, there’s been a lot of real progress – theoretical, practical and technological – in understanding the mechanisms of intelligence,
There have been encouraging signs of a growing awareness of these issues. Many thousands of AI researchers and others have now signed an open letter calling for research to ensure that
AI is safe and beneficial. Most recently, there is a welcome new Partnership on AI to Benefit People and Society by Google, Amazon, Facebook, IBM and Microsoft. For the moment, much of the focus is on safety, and on the relatively shortterm benefits and impacts of AI (on jobs, for example). But as important as these questions are, they are not the only things we should be thinking about. I’ll borrow an example from Jaan Tallinn, a founding engineer at Skype. Imagine that we were taking humanity into space in a fleet of giant ships. We would need to be sure that these ships were safe and controllable, and that everybody was properly housed and fed. These things would be crucial, but they wouldn’t be enough by themselves. We’d also do our best to figure out where the fleet was going to take us, and what we could do to steer our way towards the best options. There could be paradise
worlds out there, but there’s a lot of cold, dark space in between. We’d need to know where we were going. In the case of the long-term future of AI, there are reasons to be optimistic. It might help us to solve many of the practical problems that defeat our own limited brains. But when it comes to what the cartography of possible futures looks like, which parts of it are better or worse, and how we steer towards the best outcomes – on those matters we are still largely ignorant. We have some sense of regions we need to avoid, but much of the map remains terra incognita. It would be a peculiarly insouciant optimist who thought we should just wait and see.
The future of intelligence in the cosmos might depend on what we do right now, down here on Earth. One of the farsighted writers who saw this coming was the great Alan Turing. ‘[I]t seems probable that
once the machine thinking method has started, it would not take long to outstrip our feeble powers,’ he wrote at the conclusion of a 1951 lecture. In his 1950 paper on the so-called Turing Test, designed to gauge our readiness to ascribe human-like intelligence to a machine, Turing closes with these words: ‘We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.’ We’re well beyond Turing’s horizon, but this progress does nothing to alleviate the sense that there are still pressing questions we must try to answer. On the contrary – we live among pressures that will soon take us beyond our own present horizon, and we have even more reason than Turing to think that what lies ahead could be very big indeed. If we are to develop machines that think, ensuring that they are safe and beneficial is one of the great intellectual and practical challenges of this century. And we must face it together – the issue is far too large and crucial to be tackled by any individual institution, corporation or nation. Our grandchildren, or their grandchildren, are likely to be living in a different era, perhaps more Machinocene than
Anthropocene. Our task is to make the best of this epochal transition, for them and the generations to follow. We need the best of human intelligence to make the best of artificial intelligence.
Lord Rees (1960) is affiliated with the new Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence at the University of Cambridge, where Professor Huw Price is the academic director. Lord Rees (1960) and Jaan Tallinn are co-founders of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge, where Professor Huw Price is the academic director.
The Fountain | Issue 24
Profile: Dr Nikhil Nair (1994) The admissions panel at the University of Cambridge were sceptical when Dr Nikhil Nair (1994), blind since the age of nine, applied to take a chemistry degree. Three years later, the university’s first ever blind science student gained the top first class honours degree in his subject at Trinity College, and one of the highest firsts overall. He revised lecture notes from a computer with the aid of a Braille synthesiser and voice box, and was able to "read" diagrams drawn by tutors in blunt pencil on acetate film. In the lab, only experiments with the most dangerous chemicals were out of bounds. With four A grades at A-level and the determination to apply, Nikhil was ideally qualified, according to his personal tutor, Dr Hugh Hunt. “He was fantastic and we were absolutely delighted to have him at Trinity. When he was here he designed a five-sided snooker table and was the best undergraduate bowler on the bowling green at summer garden parties”. Fellow students grew used to the sight of Nikhil speeding around the quads and stairways at a smart pace. “I decided I could walk slowly and not bump into anything or I could walk at a pace I wanted and have the occasional collision. I chose the latter,” Nikhil said.
those with very little or no useful vision. He has reached the singles final of the national championships in each of the last three years and was crowned British champion in both singles and doubles in 2015.
Nikhil, who was awarded two undergraduate University prizes while at Trinity, returned to Cambridge for a research degree in quantum chemistry, and continues to astonish all who meet him with his resourcefulness in overcoming his disability. Following his PhD, he took an MBA at the Judge Business School with electives in finance and entrepreneurship.
“I decided I could walk slowly and not bump into anything or I could walk at a pace I wanted and have the occasional collision. I chose the latter”
Since graduation, Dr Nair has gone on to become one of the world’s leading blind tennis players, and has represented Great Britain numerous times at the Blind Tennis Championships. He was also Chairman of British Blind Sport from 2000–2006.
Nair remarked that playing tennis has been “transformational” and revived the very sporty lifestyle he had maintained as a teenager. Visually impaired tennis adapts the mainstream sport to suit the needs of blind and partially-sighted players, according to their sight classification. The adjustments often involve shorter rackets, smaller courts, and more time
Nikhil competes in the Men’s B1 category, sight classification assigned to
to hit the ball. As Nikhil explains, “we use a sponge ball so even if it hits you in the head, it’s not going to hurt. It contains ball bearings, which generate sound when the ball bounces”. Before even picking up a tennis racket, Nikhil had been a cricket batsman for 25 years when a teammate told him there was a tennis club in Cambridge. He went along for the first time in July 2013, and it is fair to say that over the last four years his rise to the top of the sport has been extraordinary. Outside of sport, Nikhil is President of NStar Lightwork, which specialises in currency trading, a business that he is intent on growing with steady success. Based on his remarkable life so far, few would bet against him.
Dr Nikhil Nair (1994), read Natural Sciences at Trinity.
Trinity Cryptic Crossword No.1 I was taken by the first line of ‘Trinity Poets’ co-editor and poet Angela Leighton’s poem ‘Library’: Bone-set, head-strong, I wonder at trees. I wondered if I could write a clue based upon it: my attempt can be found at 22 down. ACROSS 1 Butler at Trinity retiring to Anchor back serving drinks here (3-4) 5 European Union supporter welcomes Regius Professor and muse (7) 10 The tiny mind of AA Milne? (4,6,5) 11 Key points about seas and inlets (10) 12 The reverse of 21 is 12 (4) 13 Messages in phone books (5) 14 Say with “flipping bally” if instead of a break up speech (9) 17 Sings about growth in feelings of contempt (9) 19 Revolutionary aristocrat penning lines (5) 21 Care for nothing (4) 23 Safe’s contents: Tennyson’s finale found tame alongside this line of verse (10) 24 Develops Northern town band for well-known literary and artistic friends (10,5) 25 In hearing I reviewed Eros’ disgrace (7) 26 Saving Zambia from cold (7)
DOWN 2 Clearly we Tories perverted poet and occultist (8,7)
Please send entries to:
3 Drunk sherry and met poetaster (9) 4 Lyric writers and Old Testament Saint describing hell (6) 6 Strangely silent amongst US instruments (8) 7
The Globe’s part of ‘spear-thrower’ (5)
8 There’s no going back after this ace perhaps (5,2,2,6) 9 Sticky stem covers Adrian’s top ending in tragedy (6) 15 The young Lord 19 perhaps sang “Karma Chameleon”? (3,6) 16 Bestower of Dryden’s earliest letter is a mystery (8) 18 Master is kind to describe Iqbal’s introduction (6) 20 Film about whiskey advocate (6) 22 Bone-set, head-strong ... trees (5)
The Editor Alumni Relations & Development Office Trinity College, Cambridge CB2 1TQ Entries are due by 24 November. The first correct entry drawn will win a copy of Trinity Poets. Solutions and the winner will be included in the next Fountain.
Tim King (1980) is the Ipswich-based professional crossword compiler Encota. As well as setting puzzles for national newspapers and for magazines, Tim also sets personalised puzzles as unique and thoughtful gifts. If you’d like to know more, contact him at email@example.com and his website at www.specialisedcrosswords.co.uk
Alumni Events: what you said The Great Court Circle
We felt that it was a privilege to be invited and will reminisce about the day for a long time to come. We did not know any other guests personally, but met several members who chatted easily with us and helped to make the whole occasion memorable. The meal was delicious and we were fascinated by the lecture, presented with great humour and detailed knowledge. Mrs Judy Quarrie-Roberts
Events November 2017 Thursday 9 November TLA: Law as an International Career, London
Sunday 12 November Remembrance Sunday Service, Trinity College
Wednesday 22 November TBCA Speaker Series: Viswas Raghavan,
STEM was the focus of the 2017 International Women's Day event, held by the Trinity Women's Network. Over 50 members enjoyed talks by Professor Valerie Gibson and Trinity alumnae in commercial engineering firms. Attendees admired the host's – Elsevier – warm welcome and ideal surroundings for networking over canapes and drinks; with the emergence of several employment leads. Numerous attendees from other colleges and institutions, such as the LSE, joined in praising the event. Dr Kimberly Schumacher (1989)
Head of Banking EMEA, J.P. Morgan, London
December 2017 Monday 4 December Alumni Carol Service, London
July 2018 Saturday 14 July Annual Gathering for 1984–1986
Saturday 15 September
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Annual Gathering for 1978–1980
Alumni Carol Service Monday 4 December St-Giles-in-the-Fields, London Tickets: https://alumni.trin.cam.ac.uk/ Carols