Week in AI – Could Psycho AI teach us to be better humans?

Week in AI – Could Psycho AI teach us to be better humans?

Written by, Dominic Weeks, Head of Technology

Could Psycho AI teach us to be better humans?

Sobering stuff over the weekend past with Jane Wakefield’s report for BBC Tech (widely picked up by other titles later in the week) detailing research at MIT Media’s Lab where they have created a “psycho” AI algorithm, aptly named Norman after the title character in Hitchcock’s Psycho. Norman is built to interpret and describe abstract pictures, but in an inventive research twist, he has been trained on the vile spewings of internet trolls and in particular disturbing images of death.

When interpreting the pictures, Norman saw pain and suffering. When shown more positive images, the system (they didn’t give it a name in this case, but I suppose they could have gone with Mary Poppins or something), made much happier interpretations.


The fixation in media coverage here was undoubtedly on this idea that we can create evil AI as well as good, helpful AI. Homicidal killing machines, not just cute canine robot companions and virtual assistants. From the UK Government’s perspective, this is a validation of emphasising ethics within the industrial strategy centred on AI and data. Both the Lords’ Select Committee Report and the Government’s AI Sector Deal identify the opportunity for “this sceptred Isle” – where cricket was invented, a man’s word his bond, and fair play practically trade-marked – to be the global centre for ethical development of AI.

But there’s something much deeper here and actually hugely promising in my view. When we see technology that is built to replicate human thought and action applied and studied, it can act as a mirror. It can also remove some of the biases that plague us at times – that we behave in a certain way because of natural disposition informed by gender, race, class or our natural faculties.

Norman shows us that negative inputs produce dark outputs whereas a similar programme trained with more rose-tinted internet content served up much more positive interpretations. Does that not raise strongly a question about the impact on people being exposed to negative images and experiences when they are children – i.e. when their cognition is developing/being trained?

On a large scale, as we build systems that replicate how humans think and act, the behaviours we observe painted on a blank canvas, can potentially hold up a picture of ourselves. In contrast, when we examine ourselves, the findings are too often a palimpsest.

Amazon to bring more AI jobs to UK

Perhaps appropriately in a week in which one of Britain’s best loved retail names, House of Fraser, decided to shutter 31 stores, Amazon reaffirmed its commitment to the UK by planning 2,500 jobs focused on machine learning and speech science.

That should certainly grease the wheels of the company’s machine learning plans. Pun intended, given that a butter spillage sent Amazon’s warehouse robots into disarray this week.


This is a pleasing coup and promising development. However, while not comparing apples with apples (it may not even be comparing fruit with fruit), it’s interesting to remark that the new Amazon initiative promises 2,500 jobs. The House of Fraser closures cuts 6,000. Arithmetic does not seem to be on our side in creating an AI labour force while maintaining beleaguered employment levels.

Again, the comparison is perhaps trite, but people across the AI landscape should realise that the positive news pieces may not be enough to chip away at underlying fears of technology eating jobs. AI and robotics are the poster children for these misgivings. Of course, winning the macro-level “there’s always been automation, and employment increases”. Amazingly, this remains the case even when the unemployment rate is at nearly a half-century (42 year) low!

News in Brief

How can communications help increase momentum on commercialisation of CCS?

How can communications help increase momentum on commercialisation of CCS?

Written by Kira Scharwey, Account Director, Energy Practice

It’s been quite a month for the global carbon capture industry. A welcome change following a slowdown in progress from political and economic barriers over the last few years.

This time last year, I said the UK would be missing a window of opportunity if we didn’t see any progress soon on CCS, so I’ve been very happy to see the Government’s renewed focus on CCS and hydrogen since.

In May we saw some major pieces of news in this space from across the world:

  • The Norwegian government re-committing to fund CCS after a change in government led to a 61% cut in the country’s overall CCS budget for 2018
  • Announcement from Drax that it would pilot the first bioenergy carbon capture storage (BECCS) project of its kind in Europe, partnering with Leeds-based C-Capture. Renewed commitment to CCS from a company of Drax’s size – after pulling out of the White Rose CCS project in 2015 due to policy uncertainty – is very positive news.
  • US-based NET Power passing a technical milestone – a step closer to demonstrating that carbon capture can work economically at commercial scale. The company is eying the UK for future plants. This is a technology the UK Government has been very interested in as they expect to eventually beat the costs of standard natural-gas plants – approx. £60 per MWh in the UK.

This is all likely to add to increasing Government’s support for the sector – commitments from countries like Norway and UK help reduce cost and risk, as well as foster international collaboration and innovation.

But it’s not time for industry players to get complacent. There is plenty to do.

Continued engagement with BEIS, HMT and No 10 is crucial to influencing how CCS will be financed and deployed, and ultimately help secure Government’s long-term commitment to the industry.

The BEIS Select Committee has established an inquiry examining the Government’s commitment to deploying the technology and whether it has a ‘plan B’ to meet the UK’s climate change targets if cost reductions don’t materialise. This is an important opportunity for industry to influence the Committee’s recommendations to Government, and short written submissions can be made to the inquiry until 22nd June.

Strong communication with a compelling proposition around value for money and clean growth opportunities will be key for industry to make the most out of these opportunities. Now is the time for the CCS industry to be seizing the initiative to communicate what policy needs to look like to make large-scale CCS a reality in the future.

If you are engaged in CCS, hydrogen and the low carbon economy, and have a communications issue to solve, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me over email, LinkedIn or contact Madano’s Energy Practice directly.

Electric vehicle uptake: Are the brakes coming off?

Electric vehicle uptake: Are the brakes coming off?

Written by Darran Messem, Director, Transport Practice

Newly published UK Government data shows a significant increase in the number of people considering buying an electric car, but the large gap between consideration and purchase shows substantial barriers to adoption remain.

The proportion of UK adults owning or thinking about owning an electric vehicle (EV) increased from 8% in 2017 to 12% in 2018, according to BEIS’s Energy and Climate Change Public Attitudes Tracker (PAT). When multiplied by the UK population aged 16 and over, this represents an estimated accessible EV market in the UK of between 6.4m in 2018, a rise of approximately 50% from 2017. There is a growing gap between considering purchase and actual purchase.

However, fully-electric (non-hybrid) cars accounted for just 0.9% of new car registrations (4,271 units) in the last quarter of 2017. Including plug-in hybrid car registrations takes this number to 2.8% of new registrations (13,600 units) an increase of 54%. As a proportion of all vehicles in the UK, plug-in light-duty vehicles make up just 0.3%.

The gap between consideration and purchase reflects a number of barriers, including purchase cost, vehicle range, access to recharging facilities, the variety of models available and concern about vehicle life and residual values. However the market is rapidly changing. In coming weeks we will be looking at new UK registrations and market data, and highlighting how communication can help close the gap.

Is blockchain a gamechanger for the energy sector or a passing chimera?

Is blockchain a gamechanger for the energy sector or a passing chimera?

Written by Oliver Buckley, Senior Associate Director, Energy Practice

This week Madano’s Energy Practice hosted a panel event exploring the opportunities around blockchain, including the technology’s potential benefits and limitations for the energy sector.

Leading players from across the blockchain for energy space were joined by figures from Government, industry, media and academia. Speakers were Damien Moore MP; Dr Jeff Hardy (Imperial College London); Madeleine Cuff (Deputy Editor, BusinessGreen); and Matthew Williams (CTO, Faraday Grid).

With blockchain dominating media headlines and revolutionising the way we think about trading currency, we asked whether the technology really can work in a low value commodity sector like energy?

Whilst it may still be too early to tell, here are our three key takeaways from the discussion:

1. Blockchain is one of many enabling technologies for a future energy system

Blockchain has clearly come on leaps and bounds in the past few years and it is a technology that could enable new entrants and new services in the energy market. But as a nascent technology, there is still uncertainty about the most effective applications for blockchain across the energy sector. For this reason it’s critical to be open to experimentation. Blockchain is a piece of the jigsaw but no one is quite sure yet where it fits.

2. Consumers should feed into the development of a future energy system

We need to put the consumer at the heart of any decision making. If market participants want to build a better energy system using blockchain, this requires consumers to say what they want and how they want to use energy, heat and transport (especially EVs). They also need to be clear on how much data they’re willing to share. Conversely, the question remains as to whether consumers really care that much – just look at how many consumers stay on old, expensive energy tariffs.

3. UK Government needs to present its vision of the future energy system

Market participants will benefit if the UK Government is clear on what it wants to achieve in a future energy system. This is of course difficult to define, not least because data is fragmented and held by different people and companies in different places. Even so, companies and investors will benefit from having something to work towards. It needs to be clarified how such a market will be regulated and who is the ultimate ‘backstop’ if there are mistakes or something goes wrong.

One thing is for sure: the future energy system is going to look very different from how it looks today. That presents the industry not just with business challenges but also with communications challenges as companies look to build and roll out their products, and consumers react to new market conditions and choices.

Madano is a fully integrated communications consultancy that specialises in advising clients in sectors where communications are critical to success. From energy and transport, to healthcare and technology – we would very much like to hear about your challenges and explore how we can help. Get in touch with me here.

FT News: How is pollution affecting our health?

FT News: How is pollution affecting our health?

Madano’s Director of Transport and Sustainable Development Darran Messem, who is also Chairman of the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership, spoke on a panel of experts at an FT event in London, moderated by FT Science editor Clive Cookson.

The UK is among six EU member states referred to Europe’s highest court this month over a failure to clean up “significant and persistent” air pollution. So how bad is the problem and what impact is it having on our health?

Other panelists were Laurie Laybourn-Langton of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change and Ian Mudway, air toxicity specialist at King’s College London.

To listen to the podcast: https://www.acast.com/ft-news/…

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