News Story

A new white paper on artificial intelligence has been co-authored for the UK Science Festivals Network by Professor Tracy Harwood and Cheltenham Festivals’ Head of Science Festival Programming, Dr Marieke Navin.

The white paper identifies a number of use cases for the future application of AIs in science festival activity. It also looks at the potential challenges that implementing and embedding AI within these contexts may involve. As a whole, the white paper aims to plot a set of future courses for AI across the UK’s science festival landscape.

The paper is the outcome of a series of workshops curated and facilitated by Tracy and Marieke, in which participants at the UKSFN conference were asked about potential applications and issues with the uses of AI over the coming fifty years. The authors also asked the same questions of ChatGPT, and include those responses in an appendix to the paper.

“ChatGPT's response will be a matter of historical interest in due course, no doubt!” says Tracy, whose work with Marieke is part of a wider and longstanding engagement at Cheltenham Science Festival with AI. 

We've been working with AI at Cheltenham Science Festival for over five years now. Piotr Bombolo of adaily wrote that ours is the longest-running AI influencer project that exists!

Dr Marieke Navin, Head of Science Festival Programming

See Piotr Bombolo's comment here.

“One of our goals as an organisation is to share our experiences across the science festival sector and share good practice with others to improve how we are all engaging with both this key emergent technology and the research base that is driving its rapid development. This paper is a great opportunity to further that work.” says Marieke.

The white paper records the anonymised responses of the workshop participants, identifying a range of possible applications for AI in the UK science festival context. These include assistance in the ideation process - identifying and theming content for programmes - operational planning and management, event marketing, and evaluation of activity among others.

A range of risk factors were also identified, including bias and misrepresentation of data within and by LLM-style AIs, the dangers of misinformation, questions of accessibility, legal implications and the challenges of staying up-to-date in a rapidly development landscape. A number of human factors were also considered, including the positive and negative impacts of AI on workstreams and productivity, questions of skill development and acquisition, and the importance of maintaining healthy, trusting and dynamic relationships between both staff within the festivals and their publics.

One key outcome of the workshops is noted in the white paper: that festivals should be “safe spaces” for exploring new ideas – and that AIs need to support the process of engagement for learning and novelty-seeking behaviour. Questions of creativity, imagination, ethics and authenticity are all recorded in the white paper and will require further consideration across the science festival sector.