Standing on the Edge of Error: Science in the Age of AI

This lecture will reflect on what makes the scientific method so powerful, how it has transformed our world, and how it has been informed, enriched, and made possible by accomplishments in engineering. The lecture will discuss the most recent manifestation of engineering in science – its use in AI. It will review the various roles AI is playing in science and how it is augmenting the scientific process. It will discuss the need to apply our science to understand the properties and impact of AI systems themselves. The lecture will consider how AI has the potential to be weaponised to undermine science, but also how it can be used to confront disinformation. The talk will argue that current discussions around the ethics, regulation and governance of AI must involve a plurality of perspectives if we are to realise the potential of AI to advance scientific understanding.


Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt is a leading researcher in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and was one of the originators of the interdisciplinary field of Web Science. He is Principal of Jesus College Oxford and a Professor of Computing Science at the University of Oxford. He is chairman of the Open Data Institute which he co-founded with Sir Tim Berners-Lee. In 2009 he was appointed Information Advisor by the Prime Minister and, working with Sir Tim Berners-Lee, led the development of the highly acclaimed website. In 2010, he joined the UK government’s Public Sector Transparency Board – overseeing Open Data releases across the public sector. He was knighted in 2013 for ‘services to science and engineering’.

Nigel has a degree in Philosophy and Psychology from the University of Newcastle and a PhD in Artificial Intelligence from the University of Edinburgh. In 1983 he joined the Department of Psychology at Nottingham where he established and led a vibrant AI group. In 1992 he became the Allan Standen Professor of Intelligent Systems. He moved to Southampton’s School of Electronics and Computer Science in 2000. At Southampton he researched the next generation of the World Wide Web and was the first Head of the Web and Internet Science Group. At Oxford he has focused his research in human centred AI in a wide range of applications. Most recently he was asked to lead the setting up of the Oxford Institute of Ethics in AI.

With over 500 publications, he has researched and published on topics ranging from cognitive psychology to computational neuroscience, Artificial Intelligence to the Semantic Web. In 2018 he published The Digital Ape: how to live (in peace) with smart machines, described as a ‘landmark book’.

He is a Fellow of The Royal Society, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the British Computer Society.