As our guest blogger, presenter and journalist David Harper shares his experiences of working with ITN Business on the AI & Big Data: A Force for Good programme earlier this year, and hosting the panel at our TechEx launch event in Olympia on December 1st.

I’m asked quite regularly what my favourite part of this job is. It’s not an easy question to answer – there are a lot of reasons why I feel very lucky to be able to do what I do. The main bonus for me has always been the people you get to meet, and the fascinating conversations you get to have with them.

I struggle to think of another job where you get access to such an elite selection of experts on a wide range of subjects so easily. In any given week, as a reporter in a national newsroom, you can be rubbing shoulders with politicians, music stars, imminent scientists, leading sportspeople – in fact almost anyone who might have some kind of connection to current news events. I love hearing stories, and to have the ability to make a phone call and hear the full details straight from someone with an in-depth professional knowledge is a real privilege.

David Harper hosted the ITN Business AI & Big Data podcast.

This has rarely been more apparent than it has in the last few weeks, working on the latest project for ITN Business — AI and Big Data: A Force for Good.

I like to think of myself as an all-rounder, but I’ve always been drawn to stories from the world of Business and Technology. They’re probably the closest things I have to an area of specialism. This is often news that affects all of us directly. Anyone with a connection to the world of work or money is potentially impacted by a business story, and it’s almost impossible to avoid the ever expanding world of tech as it becomes a more and more critical part of our lives.

At the beginning of December the whole process reached its peak. After weeks spent filming and crafting video reports, it was unveiled in a grand public launch at the TechEx show at Olympia. We took over the exhibition’s largest stage with a few of our experts – people involved in both the spread and use of AI technology.

David Harper quote


I had already had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Thirlwell at the British Standards Institution. He’s helping to lead the way in the development of official standards for the use and operation of AI technology, and enabling the public to have some confidence that it will be used fairly and ethically. The aim is that AI providers will be able to adhere to strictly defined safety standards – in the same way as the makers of a household appliance might – and demonstrate that they take their responsibilities seriously.

Sander Stomph I met for the first time as he flew in from Amsterdam especially to join us. Sander is the co-founder of Kickstart AI, a nonprofit organisation trying to help assist the development of Artificial Intelligence in The Netherlands. The whole purpose of this project is to spread a more positive view of AI, and it was a refreshing to hear someone with such an enthusiastic take on the opportunities the technology can offer. It was also a useful chance to compare how the attitudes and progress in other countries compare to the UK.

Rounding off our panel were two colleagues from ITN. Dan Mills, the Commercial Director at ITN Education, and Nina Harrison-Bell, Head of ITN Business.

I think Dan would happily admit he’s not an expert on the technical intricacies of AI. In the last year, though, he’s been on a learning curve with his team. This is not pursuing the nightmare scenario of AI generated articles and videos that make no sense, but using tools selectively to assist with features that wouldn’t have been ‘in budget’ otherwise. Things like graphic animations and foreign language integrations. It’s important because, in an expert discussion, it’s very easy to lose sight of how real people are going to use and interact with this.

I should point out that an event like this isn’t really my natural habitat. As a journalist and presenter I’m used to the idea of large number of people seeing what I’m saying or doing, but I’m not used to being able to see them. On the largest stage at a live event, with an audience stretching out in front of you, you’re immediately aware of their reactions!

I didn’t need to worry. We were gifted with a crowd hungry to hear positive experiences and opinions on the development of Artificial Intelligence, and a panel of people happy to share them. I got the distinct impression that everyone involved in our programming desperately wanted a chance to balance out some of the viral negative stories about AI. After all, electricity can kill you in an instant but we use it every day in our homes with safeguards to keep us protected.

If you get a chance, I strongly urge you to check out some of the content we’ve produced. Alongside more from Mark and Sander, there are several other outstanding industry brains giving their thoughts. (There’s also an ITN Business Extra podcast presented by a guy called David Harper which I hear is very good!).

I’m not going to guarantee that we’ll turn you into a complete flag-bearer for the future of AI – but I know you’ll come away from it with a more balanced, objective view of Artificial Intelligence than some of the scary headlines might suggest.

Explore more partner films and interviews from our AI & Big Data: A Force for Good programme here.