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Sparking the future of artificial intelligence: CERN hosts the first edition of the Sparks! Serendipity Forum

The first Sparks! forum is over, but you can still watch the recorded talks online

First edition of the Sparks! Serendipity Forum
Anima Anandkumar, professor at the CMS department at Caltech and director of machine learning research at NVIDIA, spoke at the Sparks! Public Event (Image: CERN)

On 17–18 September, CERN held its first Sparks! Serendipity Forum, a two-day multidisciplinary science innovation forum and public event. The theme of the first edition of Sparks! was future intelligence – a topic relevant not only to CERN but to the rest of the world as well. The event was divided into two parts: the Forum and the public event. 

Participants from around the world joined the Forum, both virtually and in person, with the aim of sparking informal and spontaneous conversations about the topic of AI, deviating away from traditional conference formats. The Forum consisted of group discussions around six key themes, from ethics to creativity in AI. Participants engaged in collaborative discussions throughout the day to identify and explore questions arising from the advent of AI.

The public event was broadcast through a live webstream and watched around the world. Bruno Giussani, Global Curator of TED, acted as host, helping to bring together influential voices from within the field of artificial intelligence. He introduced us to important conversations around current and future trends in AI and their impact on society. 

The many voices represented at the public event left no stone unturned: Can identifying the potential of AI become an existential risk to society? What would the world look like if we had to share it with human-like robots? Could mapping our brain help us develop better AI? The possibility of an AI winning the Nobel Peace Prize was even considered...  

Daniel Kahneman, Jaan Tallinn, Hiroshi Ishiguro, Stuart Russell, Ed Boyden and Hiroaki Kitano were among the voices exploring these topics during the public event. You can hear all of these speakers, and more, by watching the webcast.

The public event also fused science with art, opening with a video from Ouchhh, a creative media studio, showing a simulation of proton collisions in the Large Hadron Collider, located 100 metres underground at CERN. Made to Measure, an artistic data experiment that explores the possibility of reconstructing a person’s life based only on their online data, was presented by Hans Block, one of its creators.

If you missed the live webstream of the public event, you can watch it on the Sparks! website. Alongside the webcast, individual videos will be created in a TED-style format and also made available on the Sparks! website. The content of the discussions during the Forum will be published in a CERN Yellow Report and will also form the basis of a paper in the Journal of Machine Learning, to continue the important conversations surrounding future intelligence. You can also listen to the Sparks! podcast series to hear more from some of the public event speakers.

Following on from the first edition, CERN hopes to make Sparks! an annual event, leading up to the opening of the Science Gateway in 2023. Keep an eye out for the next Sparks! event in 2022, which will be centred around another important topic in STEM. 

Sparks! is part of the CERN & Society programme. CERN & Society activities are only possible thanks to support received from partners, in particular Rolex, which has a long-standing association with the Organization. The 2020–2021 Sparks! event was also supported by Edmond de Rothschild, with support from the Didier et Martine Primat Foundation.