BONUS Should Research Into Artificial Intelligence Be Stopped? | WeAreSTS

WeAreSTS - A Podcast from UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies (STS), hosted by Professor Joe Cain.

Professor James Lighthill, UCL Provost (1979-1989), was the author of a highly influential report to the UK government about artificial intelligence (AI). It questioned what AI was and what it could achieve. Its impact was profound. It was the cause, say some, of the first “AI winter” of the 1970s. Lighthill was one of the leading mathematicians of the 20th century. His work nevertheless was highly engaging, asking questions such as “how do fish swim?” and “how do birds fly?”. His answers led him to firm convictions about what makes good science policy, not least concerning how science might pay close attention to the world’s problems.

The BONUS episode excerpts from the audio of Professor Agar’s “lunchtime lecture” at UCL in March 2021, with his permission. About the lecture, Professor Agar explains, “I will explore the resonances between Lighthill’s approach and our recent return to grand challenges and a problem-oriented industrial strategy for science….I will present my discoveries made in the Lighthill papers held in UCL Special Collections and the National Archives at Kew that reveal the reasons for this intervention. Given the resurgent importance of AI, we can learn from the past fortunes of the subject.”

The original title of Professor Agar’s talk was, “Why Did a Former UCL Provost think Research in AI Should be Stopped?”. It occurred as part of the UCL Minds Lunch Hour Lectures series in March 2021. UCL Lunch Hour Lecture series has been running at UCL since 1942 and showcases the exceptional research work being undertaken across UCL. Lectures are free and open to all. The full version of this lecture, with formal introduction and moderated questions and answers, is available on the UCLLHL YouTube channel.

About the Speaker:

Professor Jon Agar is Professor and Co-Head of UCL Department at Science and Technology Studies (STS). He is a historian of modern science and technology, and he is the author of many books, including:

  • Science Policy under Thatcher (2019)
  • Constant Touch: a Global History of the Mobile Phone (Icon, second edition, 2013)
  • Science in the Twentieth Century and Beyond (Polity, 2012)
  • The Government Machine: A Revolutionary History of the Computer (MIT Press, 2003)

He is also the co-editor of the volume:

In 2016 he was the recipient of the Royal Society’s Wilkins-Bernal-Medawar Medal and Lecture.




Music credits

Podcast information

“WeAreSTS” is a production of the Department of Science and Technology Studies (STS) at University College London (UCL). To find out more, and to leave feedback about the show, visit us online:

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Editing and post-production by Professor Joe Cain.

“WeAreSTS” producer is Professor Joe Cain.

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