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“I am just interested in getting to the truth. AI can give us the truth”-Professor Peter Cochrane speaks to IoD Essex business leaders

Rachael Taylor 08 Oct 2019

UK’s first Professor for the Public Understanding of Science & Technology Peter Cochrane inspires business leaders at IoD Essex tech event

From autonomous vehicles to da Vinci surgery robots, AI presents huge life-changing opportunities to society and the world. New technologies are tackling the most difficult problems facing us today including the complexities of biology, chemistry and climate change, as well as creating new machines and materials. 

However, as with all major leaps forward in technology, there are dire commercial consequences for getting it wrong and failing to adopt advancements when the time is right. The Essex branch of the Institute of Directors (IoD) held an exclusive AI talk with Professor Peter Cochrane OBE, the UK’s first Professor for the Public Understanding of Science & Technology on Thursday 19th September 2019 at the newly opened Innovation Centre at the University of Essex.

Peter Cochrane offered insightful advice to business leaders from across the East of England region on how they and their companies should embrace AI. He expressed the need for humans and machines to coexist harmoniously in order to boost productivity and improve performance.

“Robots do not get tired, bored or lose concentration”, Peter said, adding, “Industrial revolutions always create more jobs however we are often not particularly good at organising this kind of change.”

Business leaders were encouraged not to look at technology as a threat because it is “inert” and to remember that our human senses are what give us our edge against AI. He said that people’s fear towards AI is due to “lack of education” which hinders business progress.

“Tech will not kill us. People teach the tech how to kill us”, Peter Cochrane commented. 

Peter Cochrane OBE left school with no qualifications and then went on to complete 4 university degrees and 2 doctorates. As a seasoned professional with over 40 years of hands on management, technology and operational experience, Peter managed a 1,000 strong team as Head of Research and CTO at BT before forming his own consultancy. 

He has been employed in the defence, logistics, travel, retail, energy, healthcare, transport and Pharma sectors. He has been engaged as an advisor by UK, Singapore and Qatar government departments, HP, Motorola, 3M, Dupont, Ford, Sun, Apple, Cisco, Rolls Royce, BMW and Facebook.

His considerable experience in AI, Machine Intelligence and Robotics has led him to recognise their indispensability because everything-from governments, healthcare, and the legal system, to science, commerce and education- is built on the strength of their truths. 

“I am just interested in getting to the truth. AI can give us the truth”, Peter Cochrane said. 

Not only could AI bring great benefits to business, but for many, it is an essential tool for saving lives and even the planet. Peter Cochrane believes that in order to protect the environment, we need to stop “making decisions just with our heart and gut”. 

“There is no real long-term recycling scheme. We need to return materials back to their original form at very low energy”, he said, warning “If we are going to survive and prosper as a species, we need to use Bio and Nano- technology”.

Whatever the use, or the industry, it is clear that we need to be vigilant and proactive with regards to AI and digital transformation-This requires leadership and action driven from the top.  

Business leaders need to equip tomorrow’s workforce with the right skills and attitude in order to maximise productivity and seek the ‘truth’ with AI. As Peter Cochrane pointed out, “If we want to remain useful we have to be aware. It is our responsibility to keep up”.


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