Jonnie Penn

Jonnie Penn

Jonnie Penn is an Associate Teaching Professor of AI Ethics and Society at the University of Cambridge, a historian of technology and #1 New York Times bestselling author.

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Jonnie Penn's Biography

Dr Jonnie Penn is a leading academic on AI ethics. Penn is sceptical of claims of imminent artificial general intelligence or AI sentience. Instead, he warns of the risks of centralisation whereby AI becomes controlled by existing power structures and reflects our own societal inequalities. 

Penn’s route to academia was unusual. After the death of a close friend, he dropped out of McGill University to start “The Buried Life” with three friends; a mission to complete ‘100 things to do before you die’. The movement inspired others to go after their goals and was spun into a MTV show and later #1 New York Times bestselling book. These experiences still colour Penn’s human-centric approach to AI research. 

After returning to McGill to finish his undergraduate studies, Penn enrolled at the University of Cambridge where he is now an Associate Teaching Professor of AI Ethics and Society. As a historian of technology, he applies developments in their temporal contexts. Rather than focusing on abstract ideas of ‘killer robots’, Penn reflects on more tangible examples of how AI will affect society in the near-term. He warns of unrest if we allow new technologies to become concentrated in existing power structures. 

Instead, Penn argues, we should focus on bottom-up responses from society itself. Increasingly, he finds examples of ‘digital fatigue’. People do not want to just see more screens and cherish the small physical interactions being removed from their everyday lives. It is this democratic response, rather than the desire of a small number of corporations or governments, that should lead our AI regulatory response.  

Penn also serves as a Faculty Affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard University and as an Associate Fellow at the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence. He was formerly a MIT Media Lab Assembly Fellow, Google Technology Policy Fellow and Fellow of the British National Academy of Writing. 

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