The Foundation

Welcoming speech by DR PETER SCOTT-MORGAN

DXC Innovation Centre, London, 14TH AUGUST 2019

This is the very first gathering of The Scott-Morgan Foundation! And these next two days are also the very last time many of you will hear my biological voice. And this is definitely my last ever traditional speech.

So, I thought I’d mark these milestones by opening a portal that links both the Past and the Future.  

In August 1984, 35 years ago almost to the day, my very first book was published: ‘The Robotics Revolution’, £21.95 at all good book stores. I had a huge battle with my Commissioning Editor (and the Professor reviewing it) over the ending. In it, I predicted the far future. But I was dumb enough to predict a future that was close enough that I’d still be alive to be proved wrong. I chose half a century. At the time, that felt a very long way away.

I argued that, within my lifetime, we would reach a fork in the road. And which route humanity chose would change everything. In one future, the most likely future, the default future, robotic intelligence developed independently, pure AI getting smarter and smarter with humans eventually relegated to the status of pets or pests. This did not seem very attractive to me.

The alternate future that I argued for was one where we melded with AI, where we enhanced ourselves in ways that meant we could do things that neither we nor AI could do alone, a form of Human-AI Collaboration.

Now, I have to say, I never for a moment envisioned that several decades later I would want to read out my musings. But, in the final paragraph, I do rather appreciate the Cosmic Irony of my cavalier use of the term ‘all-too-vulnerable body’ in the light of my inability to even now hold the book being quoted. So, I’ll ask Andrew to do the honours:

If the path of ‘enhanced human’ is followed, then it will be possible for mankind and robots to remain on the same ‘evolutionary branch’, rather than humanity watch the robots split away. In this way, mankind will one day be able to replace its all-too-vulnerable bodies with more permanent mechanisms, and use the supercomputers as ‘intelligence amplifiers’.

35 years later, those of us in this room now get the chance to nudge the future in exactly that direction, the ultimate example of what Jerry would call ‘being out in front where change is born’… You could not make it up! We are the key players in an Origin Story.

But, we all know, if this were a blockbuster movie – and one day it will be – this is the point where the going gets tough and the stakes get high.

After all the wild talk, and unbridled excitement, and grand ideas, and shallow commitments, the true heroes of the Origin Story – the ones with the staying power and the focused talent and the burning passion to truly make a difference – they finally emerge. And they are you, along with a few other Rebels who are joining us in a few hours either physically or electronically. We are it! We are the true core of the Rebel Alliance. But this is a crucial time. Our rebellion against current reality, our mission to change what it means to be human, our vision of a world where Collaborative AI liberates all of us to THRIVE – even people like me – all of that comes to an end if we don’t succeed in our next steps. For a very simple reason.

There’s no one else out there in a position to do what we can. No one else out there is even trying to do what we are attempting. On the contrary. The status quo that we are pushing against is very strong. The default future that we are striving to change has already largely been written with the wrong ending. The real reason that the going will now get tougher and the stakes will get higher is because our biggest challenges are not technological – immense though those are – they are psychological.  

We’ve all heard the rumblings of a backlash against AI stirred up by the news media and Hollywood and concerned celebrities and members of the public.

We need to create an alternative. A way out. Dare I say it, A New Hope.

Yet even regarding our first steps in that direction, we’ve already seen some parts of The Establishment get cold feet, uncomfortable about technology they don’t understand. We’ve already seen some corporations and individuals go silent, stand back, choose to not publicly get involved, wait to see what happens, uncomfortable about not fully being in control, concerned about reputational risk, confused about what’s in it for them.

And I understand them. I get it. They are what they are.

But we are what we are. By a process of Natural Selection, every rebel in this room has what it takes to change the world. All of you are squeezing precious time out of ongoing commercial projects to donate your amazing talent to work with others for our common cause. And some – not least the wonderful Jerry and DXC – have at the corporate level had the guts and leadership to increasingly publicly stand beside us in our struggle to break society free from the status quo and to prove that, whatever the universe throws at us, we can all THRIVE on change by embracing it, leveraging it, and leading it.

Starting today and tomorrow, we get the chance to demonstrate a different way forward, a non-threatening way, a safer way – as Jerry wrote recently – “AI deployed alongside people who can apply context, common sense and creativity.” That’s what we’re really doing here. We’re proving a point. We’re not talking about it. We’re doing it! Showing it. Making it work.

And just as impressively, we are today encoding that visionary Can-Do attitude in a way that should ensure that it lasts far longer than any of us. We are embedding it into the design of a unique research body structured as a Charitable Foundation. I am delighted to say that Jerry has agreed to be Vice Chair of The Scott-Morgan Foundation, and Matthew from CereProc whose train should arrive in about an hour is one of our amazing seven-person Board, along with Amanda, Esther, Francis, and a guy you haven’t met yet called Alun Owen (the former Chair of the MND Association) who’s our Director of Governance and Treasurer.

The official goal of our philanthropic Foundation is just a rephrasing of the dream that brought us all together in the first place, namely: Research into the ethical use of AI, robotics, and other high-technology systems to augment the capabilities and wellbeing of those restricted by age, ill-health, disability, or other physical or mental disadvantage. Within that context, The Foundation is being formed to very explicitly and very publicly harness the power of innovation to thrive on change – even when the change is induced by MND.

I have exactly eight weeks left before I will never talk naturally again, and I’ll be dependent on whatever The Foundation’s research comes up with. But what we are doing over the next two days and beyond is not just hugely important to me, it’s crucial for everyone with Extreme Disability, and ultimately, it’s crucial for all of us. Of course, The Foundation will be a beacon of hope to those who currently have none. But it will also enlighten the progress and the direction of AI worldwide. And the brighter our flame shines, the more that others will want to join us to help it to shine even brighter. But we are the Guardians of the Flame. And forever at the centre of that flame is Humanness, Humanity. What we are guarding, preserving, ensuring is the glittering promise of every human touched by our research, every human that transitions to become a partial or (like me) even a full cyborg, every human that benefits from our AI, ending up as human as ever. Merely different. As The Foundation, we are the Guardians of the Flame of Humancentric AI.

For now, we are the underdog. But we have the chance to gather an unprecedented Rebel Alliance that together can change what none can alone. It only starts with me, but it ends with a new generation that to varying degrees meld with AI unlike anything Hollywood has ever come up with. It is the ultimate democratization of AI. I passionately believe we can be a huge force for good. And it starts NOW. Getting things to actually work. Creating a framework for the future.

I know that over the next two days there will be times of great frustration. I know that we’ll horrify ourselves by discovering vast gaps in our thinking. And I know that we’ll all get tired and make mistakes. But that’s OK. This is the beginning of a wonderful journey. We don’t have to get everything right. We just need to take our first bold steps toward a bright future. I am immensely proud to be on this journey with you. And, from the bottom of my heart, Thank You for choosing to travel alongside me…