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What will happen when artificial intelligence and the internet meet the professions?

ucyow3c2 November 2015

pencil-iconWritten by Cathryn Evans (UCL Laws)

susskind-event-photoOn Thursday 22 October, UCL Honorary Professor, Richard Susskind OBE and his son Daniel Susskind, a lecturer in economics at Oxford, launched their new book, ‘The Future of the Professions’ which examines how technology is transforming the work of human experts.

The Susskinds believe that there are two possible futures for the professions: a reassuringly familiar one, with professionals utilising technology such as Skype or design software to work more efficiently, or a pessimistic future, where computers actively displace the work of people. They conclude that these two futures will run in parallel for some time, but that the second will dominate eventually and traditional professions will be dismantled.

“Why have the professions?” asked Daniel. In a print-based, industrial society, each profession curates and guards its own body of specialist knowledge, but this is no longer possible in a technology-based, Internet society where the traditional ‘gatekeeper’ role is dying out.

Citing examples from Harvard, where more people signed up in one year for its online courses than had actually attended the university in its nearly 300-year history, and Ebay, where 60 million disputes are resolved every year without the use of lawyers, Daniel explored whether, eventually, there will be any jobs left for the professions, referencing the recent Economist review of the Future of the Professions, which asked whether “Professor Dr Robot QC” would replace professionals before long.

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The divestment debate: should UCL sell up?

ucyow3c8 April 2015

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Written by Brigid Marriott, Faculty Communications Officer, UCL Laws

As calls for fossil fuel divestment grow, universities across the world are being forced to consider the management of their endowments. Stanford, Glasgow and Sydney universities have already begun the process of full or partial divestment from fossil fuels.

Oxford has decided to defer its decision on the issue, while Harvard is preparing to fight a lawsuit – brought by its own students – to try to force the university to drop its direct investments in coal, oil and gas companies.

Fiddlers Ferry power station

Fiddlers Ferry power station, Cheshire (credit: Alan Godfrey)

On Tuesday 24 March, the Guardian newspaper published a letter from UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres to her alma mater, Swarthmore College, calling on the college’s administration to decarbonise its investment portfolio.

That same evening, six experts from across UCL gathered to debate whether the institution should do the same and sell off its £21 million investment in fossil fuel companies.

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Professional Services Conference

uclzean24 June 2014

The inaugural Professional Services Conference took place on Monday, 16 June. The afternoon consisted of a series of presentations and panel discussions followed by an awards ceremony for staff and teams nominated by their colleagues across the university.

Rex Knight, Vice-Provost (Operations), introduced the conference as a “celebration of work going on across the university”. Professor Anthony Smith, Vice-Provost (Education) said: “it’s all too easy for academic events to take precedent. This is an opportunity to say thank you to the unsung aspects of the institution.”

Empowered - Emma Todd and Alice Chilver (UCL Bartlett)

Empowered – Emma Todd and Alice Chilver (UCL Bartlett)

Over the past decade, there has been a 20% increase in staff and a 16% increase in student numbers and Knight continued “thanks to your extraordinary professionalism all would not be as it is without what you do”.

There were then presentations from Emma Todd and Alice Chilver (UCL Bartlett), co-founders of Astrea, the professional women’s network at UCL. Dr. Debbie Challis spoke about the exhibition, A Fusion of Worlds, at the Petrie Museum and funded by UCL Grand Challenges.

Finally, Bob Carey discussed the Strategic Leadership Programme and Steve Rowalt and Kate Cheney delivered their presentation on the UCL Masterplan 2011, which has overseen the current transformation of the Cruciform Hub – @ucl_crucitwit.

The Professional Services Awards consisted of five categories with nominations coming from a diverse range of staff across the university. Emma Todd, Strategic Communications Manager and Alice Chilver, Business Development Manager at the UCL Bartlett, won the ‘Empowered… confident and enabling’ award for their work in setting up Astrea. (more…)

What corrupts independence and trust?

ucyow3c21 March 2014

pencil-iconWritten by Professor Richard Moorhead (UCL Laws)

Money’s influence on knowledge and politics was at the heart of the Centre for Ethics & Law’s annual lecture, March 14.  “The Place of ‘Institutions’ in the Idea of ‘Corruption’” was given by Laurence (“Larry”) Lessig, Professor of Law and Leadership and Faculty Director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, Harvard University.

US Capitol, an institution that needs public trust

US Capitol, meeting place for the US Congress.

His intellectual aim was to explore notions of corruption broader than the popular conception of backhanders, and to illuminate how institutions are subject to a more subtle but potentially insidious corruption through ‘dependence corruption’: the deviation from the purpose of an institution.

Such corruption can either directly weaken the effectiveness of the institution or it can weaken the public trust in the institution.

‘Independent’ institutions cannot and should not avoid dependence altogether. Indeed, institutions have ‘a proper dependence’ (democracies should depend on the views of the people; courts on the neutral interpretation of the law).

Independence is compromised when that dependence deviates from its proper root.  Just as when a magnet is placed next to the needle of a compass, an institution is corrupted when it is steered away from its intended aim. Professor Lessig’s second point was that trust is a function of independence. (more…)