From Frankenstein to Facebook

11 October 2018

Artificial intelligence is the newest tool on the block for humans, and our use of new technologies that replicate or supersede the way we think and operate are likely to shape the future of our species, just as taming fire and writing previously opened up new developmental pathways for Homo sapiens.

As part of a free public lecture at IF Oxford, Augmented Humanity: how can cutting-edge IT benefit people?, leading expert on Artificial Intelligence (AI), Oxford University Professor Nigel Shadbolt, co-founder of the Open Data Institute, will look beyond the way computers are used in big business and governmental organisations. As AI becomes pervasive in our lives, this event explores the effects and benefits of smart technology on the individual, their family and their social groups. This conversation also with Marina Jirotka, Oxford University Professor of Human Centred Computing and Brian McKenna, the editor of Computer Weekly magazine, will invite the audience to consider both whether IT can make us healthier, more expressive or more productive, and the ethics of using it to do so. How will out-sourcing skills – such as memory – impact upon the innate abilities of generations to come, for example? (Augmented Humanity: how can cutting-edge IT benefit people? Fri 19th Oct, New Road Baptist Church, Bonn Square).

While the technology may be new, the people making the decisions about how and when to apply it are the ‘same old ape’ [Shadbolt, Computer Weekly; July 2018]. Might we therefore become increasingly susceptible to the greed of autocrats, the fallibility of faceless corporations, or exploitation by an empowered data-rich elite? In Antisocial media, the Festival poses the question: is Facebook a great way to share family photos or a global surveillance and propaganda machine that can influence local opinion and world politics and destabilise society?  (Antisocial media; Fri 19th Oct, New Road Baptist Church, Bonn Square)

The effects of the pairing of new technology and human life have fascinated people for generations and as part of IF Oxford, you can look back in time to the gothic era in which Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein. Since the publication of the novel, the word ‘Frankenstein’ has lived on in our cultural imagination, attaching itself to all kinds of new science including genetic engineering, and IVF as well as artificial intelligence and provoking legitimate questions around not only whether we can make certain things happen, but whether we should.

As part of IF Oxford, the Bodleian Libraries’ Weston Library will be open late on 12 October for a special event celebrating the 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein.  The event, titled 200 years of Frankenstein: it’s alive, will include a range of engaging activities. Visitors can see the handwritten draft of the original manuscript, currently on display in the Bodleian’s Sappho to Suffrage exhibition or take part in hands-on activities that relate to the theme of life – from embryogenesis (the production of embryos visualised with VR) to synthetic biology. There will also be the opportunity to get creative making ‘Frankenbooks’ and pages for a ‘Frankenzine.’

The conundrum of what is the defining characteristic that makes us human, and the question of whether we should offer comparable rights to non-human sentient creatures as we do to ourselves continue to be challenging. During the event at the Weston Library, Professor Nick Groom from  the University of Exeter, who is often referred to by the media as the ‘Prof of Goth,’ will discuss the extraordinary enduring scientific and societal relevance of Frankenstein today and 200 years ago in the free public lecture: Why Read Frankenstein in 2018?

In addition to the evening event at the Weston Library, IF Oxford is also delighted to include a ground-breaking performance, titled Frankenstein Reconstructed (Friday 12 October), taking place across the road at the Oxford University Museum of the History of Science.  The performance is inspired by the classic novel and by the surroundings in which it will be performed: the atmospheric Museum of the History of Science, which was used in the 17th century as a chemical laboratory and for anatomical investigation. Martha Skye Murphy’s one-woman show introduces us to a twenty-first century scientist whose uncanny and unforgettable story draws on research from a wide array of sources, including expert and first-hand witness accounts of early electricity, arctic exploration and Romantic literature. Directed by Louis Rogers, this dramatization takes place in the basement gallery itself, alongside exhibits relating to chemistry and early electricity, and tells a new and yet timelessly unsettling story about science and experimentation.

For more information visit

 For media enquiries, contact Festival Director Dane Comerford 01865 810 027 07720705312 or Festival Communications Officer, Esther Lafferty 01367 242498 / 07715 640228

IF Oxford is an annual science and ideas festival organised by the charity Oxfordshire Science Festival, (Charity number 1151361), which is working towards a world where the complexity, wonder and opportunities of scientific research are explored, challenged, celebrated and enjoyed across society. Through a range of events and activity, from the discussion of cutting edge research to performances and hands-on activities for families, the Festival aims to inspire and support people of all ages and backgrounds to access ideas from research and innovation. IF Oxford has been developed from the Oxfordshire Science Festival which has taken place from 1994–2017 and attended by 500,000 people since its beginning.

The 2018 Festival is produced in association with Science Oxford with the support of the University of Oxford, Oxford Brookes University, local business and cultural organisations, BBC Oxford, Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council.

Friday 19 October New Road Baptist Church (prebook; Pay What You Decide)

  • Antisocial media
    Friday 19 October New Road Baptist Church (prebook; Pay What You Decide)
  • Both the Weston Library and the Museum of History of Science are open late on Friday 12th October for 200 years of Frankenstein: it’s alive! (various events) 
  • Other AI, and life-science/technology events and activities during IF Oxford include:
  • Big Data: Big Future 
    10 October – 10 November; Frideswide Square
    Infographic exhibition: whether it is about our health, social media habits or shopping obsessions, almost every action we take today leaves a digital footprint, and the availability of this vast amount of information is revolutionising the way we do science to help us advance our societies and improve our lives.
  • Big Ideas on Broad Street
    Friday 12 October: 12-6pm
    (free & unticketed)
    A selection of hands-on activities for all ages including cognitive games – how do we learn? And ‘science busking’ on Big Data.
  • Science in a Cemetery
    13th, 14th, 20th & 21st October 1.30pm (various locations; free – please prebook)
    Discover the geological treasures during guided walks around local cemeteries.
  • Understanding Social Media: young people identity and change
    Wed 17 October 7.30pm, Clore Old Library, University Church, High Street
    (free & unticketed)
    Hear the results of an interdisciplinary study examining social media use and the online-offline balance in context of a significant life transition, with open discussion.