Programme Updates

Podcast – Experts and Expertise – Don’t Die of Ignorance

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The latest podcast in the Ahead of the Curves series, supported by Stifel Europe, is on the subject of Experts and Expertise.

Responding to an AI enthusiast who had Tweeted a picture of ‘what the rest of the Mona Lisa looked like’  the picture above appeared as a response with the caption – “Ever wonder what Venus de Milo’s Arms look like? With the power of AI our team has recreated it.”

AI promises many things, most of which involve taking over from experts, professionals, and even great sculptors. Is it getting too smart for its own good? And is our judgment – borne of years of sometimes bitter experience – going to see it heavily regulated?

“We’ve had enough of experts,”  said Michael Gove when decrying those with experience of business and economics who warned Brexit might not be a good idea. But why has gut-based common sense made such a comeback? Would you employ someone with a hunch and heartfelt enthusiasm to extract your appendix? And with the advent of AI and Chat GPT will the jobs of the experts be taken away by a super intelligence who knows best – i.e. knows everything? Populist politics decries the old wisdoms proffered by experts. The common man or woman has a better, innate sense of what’s true and what isn’t. The validity of lived experience as opposed to reasoned theory is on the rise. You gather with all like-minded folk on social media rejecting ambivalence and complexity – which most mature experts accept as a fact of life –   and cut through to some simple “truths.”  One of the experts interviewed in this podcast suggests this is myopic ignorance – “If you’re not confused you’re not paying attention,” he remarks.

How can you tell when you’re dealing with a genuine expert? Real expertise must pass three tests. First, it must lead to performance that is consistently superior to that of the expert’s peers. Second, real expertise produces concrete results. Brain surgeons, for example, must be skilful with their scalpels but must also have successful outcomes with their patients. A chess player must be able to win matches in tournaments. Finally, true expertise can be replicated and measured in the lab. As the British scientist Lord Kelvin stated, “If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.”

Why is expert knowledge necessary and second, why is it necessary in a democracy? We live in a knowledge economy. We live in an economy which is powered by innovation, by technology—all of which is funded by expert knowledge. If you don’t know the nature of the world, you can’t innovate. You can’t market. You can’t control natural forces or social forces. You can’t have scientific development. You can’t have innovation. You can’t have any of the things you need to power a modern world. A modern administrative state needs knowledge in order to function. But as Senator Daniel Moynihan used to say, “Every person is entitled to their own opinion, but they’re not entitled to their own facts.”

We’ve interviewed three experts in their fields – three individuals at the top of their professional game. They are intentionally diverse: psychology, investment banking and paediatric surgery. If – for whatever reason – you venture into their fields – they come heartily recommend. (I must apologize that they are all men. It just worked out like that. And it won’t happen again)  What I’ve asked all three of them is first, what the nature of their expertise consists of, secondly how they acquired that superior competence and thirdly if they feel that the advent of Artificial Intelligence – Chat GPT and its spawn – will mean that their like becomes redundant in years to come. Will their like get chucked onto the scrap heap of history?

To be fair to Chat GPT it is modest about the reach of its abilities. And one of our experts says that the winning statement he can make when pitching his nouse is by admitting “I don’t know”. Maybe that’s the point of expertise – which in a time gone by – was encapsulated by a combination of knowledge and wisdom. Being smart enough to admit when you don’t know.

Dr Tomas Chamorrow-Premuzic is a psychologist and professor of Business Psychology at Columbia University. His new book I Human is about AI and questions what makes us Homo sapiens unique.

Gareth Hunt is an investment banker at Stifel and leads their Law Firms and Litigation Finance advisory team in Investment Banking. He’s especially interested in how artificial intelligence might erode the status and need for professionals including lawyers.

Bruce Richard is a retired paediatric surgeon who specialised in the repair of cleft lip and palate in children. It took him a long while to become an expert in his field. He talks about robotics in surgery and the difficulties of passing on that expertise to coming generations of surgeons in training. We even get to discuss the medical ethics and in and outs of The Brazilian Butt Lift.


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