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Senior Headmaster’s Blog: Can we flourish in the age of superintelligent machines?

On Thursday 6 February we were lucky enough to host Professor John Wyatt throughout the day, culminating in his delivery of the Butler Lecture.  The Butler Lecture is named in honour of 'RAB' Butler, a former MP for Saffron Walden, a Governor at Felsted for many years, and recognised as one of the most influential politicians of the 20th century never to become Prime Minister.  
Professor Wyatt is the Professor of Ethics and Perinatology at University College London. He is also Honorary Consultant Neonatologist at University College London Hospital, having spent his medical career working in neonatology and perinatology.  He hosted a number of seminars on key ethical questions with our pupils, before delivering his talk in the evening on the topic of "What it means to be human - can we flourish in the age of superintelligent machines?" 

As he rightly told us, there are many ethical challenges that lie ahead for the current generation of students, as technology advances, and artificial intelligence becomes ever more influential.  This will impact on Education, Careers, and Quality of Life, and indeed will even impact on what it means to be human.  Professor Wyatt challenged us to think about what it means to be a 'person' and whether that is something distinct from having intelligence.  The talk inspired many good questions, and much discussion, and while RAB may not have recognised the technology that is becoming more a part of our lives everyday, he would certainly have recognised the intellectual discussion, and the ethical challenges that were being considered.  
It has been a very busy, with the Upjohn Declamation last week, the premier public speaking event of the year.  This was won by a very dynamic talk on the human impact on the planet, by Dominic Wells, but the range of topics, and the depth of analysis from all the speakers was really impressive.  The Battle of the Bands brought Music to the fore, with Felsted bands competing for recognition as the best in school.  Congratulations to the Churchmen for taking the title on the night.  

On Wednesday 5 February, Harry Potter came to the library.  As probably the single most influential character of children's literature in the last 30 years, Harry has become a part of the fabric of growing up, and the Beauxbatons took the prize in our own triwizard tournament. 
We are also celebrating two groups of national finalists from among the sports teams.  Our senior netball squad will represent Felsted in the Under 18 national finals on Saturday 14th March, while the Under 16 squash team has made it to the national final at tier one level, for the first time ever, showing the remarkable progress made in this sport in a short space of time.  

With just a week to go until the half term break, there is still much going on, and the students are continuing to work very hard.  

Chris Townsend