Reducing your Carbon Footprint – Effective Carbon Offset

Posted on: May 21st, 2024 by mlpEditor

This online seminar will introduce how you can offset your own personal carbon footprint, both ineffectively and effectively.

We’ll begin with an introduction to the carbon offset methods available to the public and their efficacy.

After this introduction, Dr Jan Huckfeldt, will be joining us online from Switzerland as the Chief Commercial Officer of Climeworks, the largest Direct Air Capture (DAC) organisation on the planet. Jan will describe the role that atmospheric CO2 (the largest greenhouse gas contributor to anthropogenic climate change) plays in climate change. He will explain the reality of what this really means, and the science and practice of DAC on the journey to scale the operation to gigatonne capability.  There will also be a discussion on the economic challenges that have to be overcome.

Following Jan’s presentation, there will be a Q&A session where you will have the opportunity to ask that burning question you always wanted to know the answer to.  Maybe you want to know more about ‘greenwash’? Or better understand the relative scale of the challenge we face to restore atmospheric levels of CO2 to what is considered a safe level.  Whatever your interest, you will leave this seminar with an understanding of what you can do in reality to correct excess levels of CO2 that is already present in the atmosphere.

Humanising Trust in the Age of AI

Posted on: April 23rd, 2024 by mlpEditor

To human beings, trust is very personal, often domain specific, and influenced by lived experiences. Traditionally, trust has been focused around human to human relationships based upon a person’s integrity, honesty, dependability and the belief that a person will not cause harm. But what about Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence? How can we assess that? This topic which will be discussed in Dr Emily Collins’ Manchester Lit & Phil talk on 2nd May 2024, framed around trustworthy and responsible robotics.

The development of global ethical Artificial Intelligence (AI) principles and guidelines, followed by the explosion of generative AI in the public domain in 2021, has led to a scramble to legislate AI based around core ethical principles. The EU AI Act – the first comprehensive legalisation based on a risk-based approach – was formally adopted in March 2024.

At the heart of the UK’s pro-regulation approach, five cross-sectoral principles based on Safety, security and robustness; Appropriate transparency and explainability; Fairness; Accountability and governance; and Contestability and redress, were adopted. Currently, these principles are down to individual regulators to interpret – but what will this practically mean for a human within society, the wider public and marginalised communities in terms of their rights?

Human trust is at the heart of responsible and ethical AI in society. In March 2024, The UK Government published its guidance on AI Assurance which emphasises the importance of trust, defining the context of justified trust as “where a person or group trust the use of an AI system based on reliable evidence”. The guidance provides a toolkit for organisations for measuring, evaluating, and communicating AI Assurance supported by some practical guidance. Some progress in this area is certainly being made.

However, to the person on the street who may have little awareness of the use of AI in their everyday lives and how it impacts them, understanding the risks and benefits of AI elements of a particular product or service prior to using it, may be overwhelming, and potentially lead to an increase in the digital divide in society.

So how do we ensure that humans have the confidence and trust in AI and that it is accessible to everyone?

The Peoples Panel in Artificial Intelligence was a project first funded by The Alan Turing Institute in 2022, and has since been adopted by Manchester City Council as part of Doing Digital Together. The original Peoples Panel was first established from community volunteers within Salford and Stockport through a series of community AI roadshows designed to reach and engage with traditionally marginalized communities and develop a common language and understanding around AI.

Community volunteers undertook two days of training, practically exploring ethical AI principles and learning techniques to consequence scanning how AI and data was used. They then scrutinised researchers and business in a series of live panels around new and emerging AI products. Confidence was shown to increase, and volunteers became advocates of debating and discussing AI in their own communities.

A second project, PEAS in PODS, trained up researchers as Public Engagement Ambassadors (PEAs) across three universities on public engagement and co-production. The PEAs are currently emersed in three co-produced AI related projects at Back on Track (Manchester), Inspire (Stockport) and The Tatton (Ordsall) led by the communities themselves. One such project is currently co-developing a Peoples Charter for AI – focused on what assurances people want from those organisations that adopt AI.

There is hope for the future: peoples voices – especially those that are hard to reach – are being heard.

And a bill on the regulation of artificial intelligence is currently making its way through the House of Lords. It is significant as it specifically mentions the role of meaningful public engagement and states “AI and its applications should…… meet the needs of those from lower socio-economic groups, older people and disabled people”.

As humans are unique, how we build trust in AI is also unique. But first, we need a mutual language of understanding about AI for everyone.

Black Holes: the key to understanding the universe

Posted on: March 18th, 2024 by mlpEditor

Black holes are fascinating objects because of the way they force us to address the biggest questions in physics such as the essential nature of space and time.

Black holes are formed when massive stars collapse at the end of their life cycle. Their gravity is so strong that light cannot escape from them. The first direct image of a black hole and its vicinity was published in 2019 using observations made by the Event Horizon Telescope in 2017.

Jeff Forshaw will introduce black holes and go on to examine the consequences of trying to track the flow of information into and out of a black hole. Recent insights indicate that space and time are emergent features related to key concepts including “quantum entanglement”, and in a fashion that bears some resemblance to “quantum error correcting codes”, such as are needed to make stable quantum computers.

What are you drinking? A look at chemicals in the urban water cycle

Posted on: March 7th, 2024 by mlpEditor

When you turn on the tap to get a glass of water, do you think about where that water has come from? Or rather, where it’s been and what treatment processes it has had to go through?

It’s true that chemicals can extend, improve and enrich our health, wellbeing and life experiences. But the rate at which new chemicals are being generated is resulting in widespread contamination of water. Arguably, the impacts of chemicals in our environment represent the third greatest planetary crisis behind climate change and biodiversity loss. And yet they are inextricably linked to both.

Currently, more than 56% of the world’s human population lives in cities. And daily use, release and exposure to chemicals in our environment is an emerging concern.

In this recording of an online talk, Dr Leon Barron outlines how chemicals move in our urban water cycle. From the wastewater we generate, to river pollution, to contamination of our drinking water and their occurrence in both humans and biota. Advances in measurement technology has underpinned much of this, especially the use of mass spectrometry, to fingerprint chemical sources.

Leon describes the role of wastewater in understanding exposure to chemicals, with respect to continuous release of treated effluents to our rivers, lakes and seas. He also talks about using the analysis of wastewater generated in cities to understand consumption and exposure patterns to every-day-use chemicals – like pharmaceuticals, personal care products, pesticides, lifestyle chemicals and many others.

He assesses potential solutions to this issue, to ensure that we balance the environmental impacts of chemicals and their immense benefit to society.

If we’re going to survive and thrive in the future, there is no doubt that we will need to look after our water supply.

Human Interactions and the Implications for Ethical and Responsible RAI (Robotics and AI)

Posted on: March 4th, 2024 by mlpEditor

What do we mean by trustworthy robotics? And why is that important?

The increasing deployment of advanced technology in our daily lives, such as embodied robotics like intelligent wearable robots for rehabilitation, continues to raise ever more complex questions about the ethical implications of their use, and what that means in practical terms.

One approach to answering these complex questions is to frame the debate around what we mean by Responsible Robotic and AI (RAI) use. In this talk, Dr Emily Collins will argue that to best understand the consequences of RAI’s short or long-term use, we need to place an understanding of human interactions as central to our understanding of it.

Who are the users? Who are the employers of those users? Who deploys the technology? And what do these mediating relationships have to do with who is ultimately responsible for what happens when we use technology in real-world, applied settings? Dr Collins argues that asking these practical questions get us closer to understanding what we mean by ethical RAI.

And what about trustworthiness? In the field of Human-Robot Interaction there is increasing interest in considering, measuring, and implementing subjective trust, and objective trustworthy factors, as it pertains to responsible RAI. You might subjectively decide to trust a robot, but what specific factors about that particular robot make it trustworthy? Is a robot’s trustworthiness contingent on the user’s relationship with, and opinion of, the individual or organisation deploying the robot?

Dr Collins will discuss examples highlighting the need for trustworthy RAI in a variety of disparate environments, and a new approach to studying robotics will be presented. How can there be one approach when assessing trustworthy, responsible, transparent and ethical RAI when a human’s relationship with the person, employer, or government – who has given them RAI to work with – is not consistent?

Shedding new light on disease

Posted on: March 4th, 2024 by mlpEditor

Can spectroscopy and AI help in the fight against cancer?

It is well known that early and accurate diagnosis of cancer is essential for both getting the correct treatment and obtaining the best outcome. At the first sign of trouble a biopsy is normally taken to examine tissue from suspicious lumps or lesions. A pathologist will then stain the tissue and examine it through a conventional microscope.

Pathology services, however, are increasingly under strain. The number of pathologists is decreasing year-on-year by approximately 15%. In addition, many cancers, such as prostate, are age related. Given that we have an aging population, there is an ever-increasing number of samples to be analysed.

Back in 2016, Cancer Research UK reported that ‘diagnostic services, including pathology, urgently need support and investment to ensure that diagnoses aren’t delayed and patients benefit from the latest treatment, and separately that ‘Immediate action is needed to avert a crisis in pathology capacity and ensure we have a service that is fit for the future.

The government has suggested histopathology is ‘a key area ripe for technological revolution’. Part of that technological revolution is occurring in the form of Artificial Intelligence (AI). As we move from looking under a microscope to taking a digital image, pathologists are able to use AI to analyse these images and pick out key features that are indicative of cancer. These new analysis methods can help the pathologist in making the correct diagnosis.

AI, however, is not the only technology that is being explored. New spectroscopic microscopes are being developed that do not require any stains or dyes to “see” the tissue. The image is created by analysing vibrations in molecules that make up the tissue. AI can then be used to probe these chemical maps and look for features that cannot be seen under a conventional microscope.

These new techniques are very much in the developmental stage, but it is hoped that such methods will soon be available to help pathologists and improve cancer care.

Knowledge, Teaching and Artificial Intelligence

Posted on: February 29th, 2024 by mlpEditor

How can we reliably assess knowledge following the advent of Generative AI?

Recent advances in Generative Artificial Intelligence represented by new tools such as ChatGPT, have caused much excitement and some alarm in education. Mark Johnson’s talk is about what underpins both the excitement and the alarm: the reality that an automaton can select words which are as meaningful to humans as those which might be selected by humans themselves.

Given that education has traditionally associated the assessment of knowledge with the ability to select words in writing, this technological development presents a number of fundamental questions including:

What is knowledge beyond the selection of words?

How is the human selection of words different from that of an AI?

How can deeper, and often tacit, knowledge be taught and assessed?

Beginning with philosophy of language and an account of the mechanics of AI, Mark will present an analysis of these questions in relation to practical experiments. He will argue that understanding what is happening ‘under-the-bonnet’ of AI helps us to see the critical differences between human word-selection and artificial word-selection.

This presents some reassurance as to the uniqueness of human action, but some urgent critical challenges for the future of educational practice. Some examples of innovative educational practice with AI will be presented, drawing on work in the UK, China and in European Universities.

Engineering enzymes to reduce plastic waste

Posted on: December 11th, 2023 by mlpEditor

Plastic waste is a global pollution crisis. Finding effective solutions to tackle PET plastic pollution is crucial for preserving our environment and creating a more sustainable future.

PET plastic, short for polyethylene terephthalate, is a commonly used material in bottles, containers and packaging. Unfortunately, PET plastic waste has become a significant environmental problem. When not properly recycled, PET can persist in the environment for many years, contributing to pollution in our oceans and ecosystems.

Current recycling methods for PET plastic face several challenges. The processes can be energy-intensive and costly. And the quality of recycled PET may not always be on par with virgin plastic, limiting its usability.

In 2016 scientists found an enzyme, a special type of protein, called IsPETase that can break down PET into its original building blocks. This discovery generated a lot of interest in using biological methods to recycle plastics.

But enzymes such as IsPETase are not immediately suitable to be used on a large scale, as they are not robust or efficient enough for industrial use. Whilst enzymes can be engineered to meet these industrial demands, the process is very challenging when working with plastic degrading enzymes.

In this recording of an online talk, Dr Elizabeth Bell describes the development of a high-throughput platform for engineering plastic degrading enzymes using a process called directed evolution. Directed evolution is a mimic of natural evolution but done on a laboratory scale. It focuses on tailoring the specific properties of an enzyme to meet our requirements.

Elizabeth and her team used this platform to create a new variant of IsPETase that can withstand high temperatures and is more effective at breaking down PET. The engineered enzyme can also selectively degrade the PET component of a multi-material plastic that is commonly used for food packaging.

This study demonstrates that laboratory evolution can be used as a powerful tool to engineer enzymes to effectively break down plastics. With further research and development, these engineered enzymes could play a crucial role in reducing plastic waste and promoting a more sustainable future.

Four Ways of Thinking: Statistical, Interactive, Chaotic and Complex

Posted on: November 30th, 2023 by mlpEditor

What is the best way to think about the world? How often do we consider how our own thinking might impact the way we approach our daily decisions? Could it help or hinder our relationships, our careers or even our health?

Acclaimed mathematician David Sumpter has spent decades studying what we could all learn from the mindsets of scientists. His book Four Ways of Thinking (published August 2023) is the result.

Thinking about thinking is something we rarely do, yet it is something science questions all the time. Rather than being about facts, scientific and mathematic disciplines are, in large part, about finding better ways of reasoning. Our primary mission is to shape our own minds in a way that gets us closer to the truth.

In this recording of a Manchester Lit & Phil talk, David illustrates four ways of thinking (Statistical, Interactive, Chaotic and Complex) through the lives of four mathematical scientists — Ronald Fisher, Alfred Lotka, Margaret Hamilton and Andrej Kolmogorov. But that doesn’t mean you have to be a mathematician to enjoy David’s presentation!

He combines personal experience with practical advice, showing how these tried and tested methods can help us with every conundrum. From how to bicker less with our partners, to pitching to a tough crowd.

Developing the ‘meadow’ as an urban cultural form

Posted on: November 16th, 2023 by mlpEditor

50 years ago, meadows were mainly viewed as a lost agri-environmental landscape whose passing was not much mourned. Since then, public and professional interest in the meadow’s many incarnations has grown. They are now valued for their aesthetic inspiration, their role in supporting biodiversity, their ability to restore the ecosystem, and as an ‘ecological paragon’.

James Hitchmough’s talk explores his research and practice into how to make meadows and meadow-like vegetation in urban (and sometimes rural) landscapes – in the UK and around the world – and how people view and experience them.

The foundational issues that James’ work has addressed over a career spanning 50 years include: how are meadows seen by the public in the context of urban places (as opposed to a field in the countryside)? And what are the key levers that you could shift as a designer to increase notions of value and therefore acceptance?

James’ research has also considered if it is possible to use design to maximise the chances of meadows delivering the visual and other benefits they can provide within politically contested urban landscapes.  He had observed the awakenings of the ‘nature in the city movement’ from the mid 1970’s and it was clear that getting public buy-in to urban meadows was far from automatic.

The final element in the jigsaw was understanding the ecological dynamics of meadows and meadow-like vegetation, and how this could inform management to enable these vegetation types to persist in urban landscapes. James’ interest in meadow-like-vegetation has, he states, always operated within the context of the world’s temperature vegetation as a whole, rather than just the UK. This has significantly coloured the nature of his work.

Join us for this intriguing look into how our relationship with meadows has transformed over the years.

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