Thank you, Charlie, Tabitha and your marvellous team for your perseverance in making CogX a virtual reality.  I don’t think we can start today without acknowledging the Black Lives Matter protests taking place all over the world these past two weeks. As Dr Martin Luther King Jr said, a riot is the language of the unheard, and sometimes society has to reach a breaking point before real change can take root.  I sincerely hope that time is now.

The first five months of this new decade have been incredibly challenging.  Unprecedented in our lifetimes.  As the pandemic raged through our communities and lockdowns were enforced, the entire global economy came to a standstill. What followed was a profound economic shock still reverberating that exposed deep inequities in our society and in how we care for our citizens. But through all of the challenges, we witnessed the best of humanity shining through which gives me hope that as the recovery begins we can genuinely unify and bring communities together.

If we are going to get the next ten years right, we need leaders with empathy who care about their fellow citizens and are prepared to work to end injustice and create opportunities for all.

Which brings me to the class of 2020, those marvellous young minds graduating this month from our great institutions of higher learning. There are no ceremonies or celebrations for them and very few jobs are waiting and yet they are optimistic and more determined than ever. I admire their strength and resilience and I believe that we should do everything in our power to help them achieve their dreams and become the generation that guides us to a fairer society and a healthier planet. Young activists like Greta Thunberg who found her voice and with courage and conviction demanded the world pay attention to the threats of the climate crisis on our horizon. Or the students from Parkland Florida who bravely stood up to an entrenched US gun lobby to fight for their murdered classmates.  There are millions of young adults around the world just like them, committed to solving the significant issues we face and their voices deserve to be heard.

Today, we have global communications platforms that connect us to over 3 billion people. Theoretically speaking, nearly half of the world’s population can talk to one other, but not all voices are being heard. The ownership of these platforms is concentrated in the hands of a few which should be deeply concerning in societies that cherish freedom of expression but let’s put that aside for a moment. These companies have a truth problem. They pander to the powerful for fear of regulation or retribution and turn a blind eye to those spreading vile conspiracy theories. The messages that get the most likes and shares are too often linked to fake accounts that spread misinformation and normalise hateful narratives. And it turns out that the algorithms that maximise monetisation are also quite effective at amplifying passion and inciting violence and divisiveness.  The leadership of these companies must help truth find its voice again. It’s time that they live up to their ideals and show that they stand for something.  If we are to get things right in this new decade, these global communications platforms need to become what they were originally intended to be -- places where we can engage in substantive dialogue about the real issues facing our world and where everyone’s voice can be heard.  

Though technology propels us forward in so many ways, it is not a surrogate for society. We cannot abdicate our responsibilities to it. Civility, equality and public discourse should not be determined or manipulated by technology. We the people, not the state and indeed not the internet platforms are responsible for our own destiny, and we must constructively engage and define what we value and the future we want to build for our children.

And let’s remember that an iPad or smartphone is not a substitute for parenting.  Please don’t take offense.  I am not being judgmental.  We have all been there but our children need us to be present now more than ever.


While we are on the subject of truth, an alarming fact you may not be aware of  is that while the world has been locked down, child abuse and online sexual exploitation has exploded.   And yet, internet platforms and device manufacturers continue to pander to the nihilistic entitlement of abusers with platitudes of protecting their privacy; further enabling them to obfuscate their crimes. We need to fight back to ensure that the internet is safe for all children to learn, to dream, to communicate and to be inspired. That is the mission of the WeProtect Global Alliance, an organisation I founded in 2014. We believe that technology in itself is neither good nor evil; it’s up to us to make it a powerful ally and use its transformative power to heal and to stop this heinous crime.

What we experienced in the past few months brings my next point home. We have never been more aware of the fragility of human life. All human beings deserve to be healthy.  It is a fundamental human right. Over these past few months, we all watched daily news recount the number of souls who had lost their lives to COVID-19 and what transpired forced us to recognise deep inequalities in our society. We learned that the chance of catching the virus was much higher for the everyday heroes whose jobs require interaction with the public or taking care of others in a hospital or care home. We are forever grateful for their bravery and kindness and compassion. We also learned that our ability to fight the disease is often correlated to the economic circumstances of the patient and whether they have access to quality healthcare or take medicines to treat comorbidities common among ethnic and disadvantaged groups. This pandemic has laid bare inequalities in our society that we can no longer ignore.

So, why can’t we build a world where no disease goes untreated? Well, I believe that we can. But that world will not naturally emerge; we must actively create it. Today thousands of diseases have no treatment, and yet we spend tens of billions each year supporting a broken system that leaves millions of patients without hope for a cure. This has to change. Patients deserve better. We must leverage breakthrough technologies and make the best use of the world’s vast and ever-expanding universe of biomedical information for the benefit of all.

At BenevolentAI, our team is mission-driven to preserve human life, and I am immensely proud of the work we do. But the technology we build is just the spark. By augmenting human intelligence, our AI and machine learning tools empower scientists to discover life-changing medicines. And when faced with the escalating global pandemic, we turned our AI drug discovery platform toward identifying existing drugs that could be used to treat COVID-19 until a vaccine is developed. Our platform identified a treatment that has both anti-viral and anti-cytokine properties which has now entered randomised clinical trials in the US and around the world. This experience has reinforced our belief that innovative thinking, combined with purposeful technology, can truly lead to better outcomes for patients, which brings me to my final point. To get the next decade right …

Technology needs to start working for us - not the other way around. We need to stop believing that tech is imbued with some kind of superpower that will one day democratise benefits for all. Thirty years into this internet revolution and that still hasn’t happened and simply wishing isn’t going to make it so. It’s time to recognise the real political and economic forces at play and demand a future that serves us all, not just the top 1%.

And a message for the tech industry and governments. We must ensure that the AI we are building is magnanimous, not malevolent. That bias is kept in check and that the future serves us all equally. The diversity of the data we use to power our AI and machine learning must represent society as a whole so that no one is left behind.

But let’s remember that it is always darkest just before dawn. Throughout modern history, when things seemed most desperate, leaders emerged to raise society, and today leadership is not just about who is the Prime Minister or President. It’s about all of us caring for each other, finding our voices and defining a clear path for the future.

We have three days together at virtual CogX. Let’s use it to the fullest.  Let’s unite behind concrete ideas and spark change so that the recovery can begin and we can get back on the path to progress. And yes, let’s get the next ten years right so that we have a society for the next thousand years.

Source: Medium