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Shadow AI Minister to deliver keynote talk at South West AI conference

13 February 2024
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The South West Business Council (SWBC) will welcome the Shadow Minister for Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Intellectual Property, Matt Rodda, will deliver the keynote address at their conference: ‘Harnessing the Power of AI: Meeting the Challenges’ on 16th February 2024 at the Great Hall, University of Exeter. 

The event, co-sponsored by tech giants Microsoft, specialist law firm Michelmores, and leading AI company Hertzian, will be held in response to the Chancellor’s Autumn statement released in November 2023. The statement outlined the significant opportunities for reducing administration for public services by safely harnessing AI. Those attending the conference can expect to explore the challenges and opportunities of integrating AI into the public sector, with a special focus on how South West businesses can use the power of AI to increase productivity. 

The line-up of speakers includes Richard Potter, Director of Digital Strategy at Microsoft, Dr John Downey, Lecturer in Digital Health at the University of Plymouth, Professor Robin L. Pierce, Professor of AI and Law at the University of Exeter, and Professor Simon Macintosh-Smith, Professor of High Performance Computing at the University of Bristol. Other speakers include Professor Kirstine Dale, Chief AI Officer at the Met Office and Stuart Brocklehurst, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Business Engagement and Innovation at the University of Exeter. A welcome address will be delivered by Paul Coles, CEO of the South West Business Council, and Professor Lisa Roberts, Vice Chancellor for the University of Exeter. 

Off the back of Jeremy Hunt’s 2023 Autumn Statement, which announced a £500m investment for the UK’s artificial intelligence and quantum computing capabilities, the conference will also seek to explore the government’s role in creating policy-setting frameworks that ensure AI is beneficial to businesses and society. Other key topics include mitigating the threats of AI, and the practical application of AI in research and deployments for enriching lives. 

Paul Coles, CEO of the South West Business Council, said: “The Chancellor’s Autumn Statements has increased critical thinking around the topic of Artificial Intelligence and how its application can benefit or hinder the productivity of businesses. Our conference aims to unpick some of these challenges for businesses in the South West by welcoming a wealth of expertise from our AI-specialist speakers with backgrounds in government, academia, and business."

The conference includes a panel discussion facilitated by Charles Courtney, the Earl of Devon, crossbench member of the House of Lords, and Partner at Michelmores LLP. Panellists include the esteemed Sara El-Hanfy, Head of Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning at Innovate UK, Professor Miriam Koschate-Reis, Associate Professor for Computational Social Psychology & Deputy Director for Data Science & AI at the University of Exeter, Lindsay Lucas, Senior Digital Consultant at Cosmic UK, and Chris Weavill, CEO at Hertzian. 

Tom Torkar, Partner at Michelmores and Head of the Commercial Team and Tech and Innovation, said: "It's an exciting time to be in the South West, a fast-growing, internationally recognised tech hot spot. We are delighted to be supporting the SWBC conference and contributing to the discussions around how businesses can harness the power of AI."

Chris Weavill, CEO of Hertzian, said: “Discussing AI isn't just about showcasing advancements; it's a crucial dialogue on shaping the future. We stand at the precipice of unprecedented technological advancements. Having pioneered AI solutions since 2015, I understand the fear and uncertainty for the future. This conference provides the platform to collectively strategies on how it can revolutionise education, redefine e-commerce, and fortify security. I'm honoured to be part of this dialogue, as we navigate the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.” 


Nicky Godding is editor of The Business Magazine. Before her journalism career, she worked mainly in public relations moving into writing when she was invited to launch Retail Watch, a publication covering retail and real estate across Europe.

After some years of constant travelling, she tucked away her passport and concentrated on business writing, co-founding a successful regional business magazine. She has interviewed some of the UK’s most successful entrepreneurs who have built multi-million-pound businesses and reported on many science and technology firsts.

She reports on the region’s thriving business economy from start-ups, family businesses and multi-million-pound corporations, to the professionals that support their growth and the institutions that educate the next generation of business leaders.

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