Day Houses battle for Senior Debating title

Day Houses battle for Senior Debating title

The final of the Senior Debating Competition saw a clash of the titans between girls’ and boys’ day houses The Lakes and Great House. The motion for the final was ‘This House believes the risks outweigh the rewards of Artificial Intelligence’.

With The Lakes in Proposition, Polly Painter opened by spelling out the different types of AI and outlining several of the associated risks, in a worst case scenario. In opening the debate for Great House, Rowan Wilson countered by demanding a more balanced assessment of both risk and reward. He explained many of the productive uses of AI and noted that all progress of mankind has come against a backdrop of both fear and suspicion of the unknown. Becky Graham-Lowe picked up on the challenge as second speaker for The Lakes by reminding the opposition that the context of the proposition argument was to realistically assess risk and she pointed out that the risks of an AI programme that wrests control from human operators could indeed be dramatic. Becky asked us to consider the effect of the accidental launch of a nuclear weapon as an example. The second speaker for the opposition, Ed Wardell rebutted Becky’s position, then developed the opposition argument with additional use of compelling research and statistics before pleading with the audience for their support in recognising that progress comes with a certain risk.

Summarising for the opposition, Max French invited the audience to consider whether the proposition had adequately proved their assertions through robust research and statistics and criticised the opposing hypothetical scenarios.  He appealed to the audience to reject the ‘fear-mongering proposition’ and instead believe the experts and the facts.

Jazz Nobbs, summarising for the proposition, responded to points from the floor by referring to a study in US which explored the risks of AI in a weapons system and decided that the risk was not in fact worth it. She pointed out that the reason for fewer statistics is simply because we are in the early days of AI, therefore statistics are not available. Nuclear destruction, Jazz maintained, is a real threat, and the fact that many military advisers have decided against the use of AI weapons systems, is surely evidence enough that the risks are too great. She concluded by reminding us that the central point of conflict in the debate is not that AI is without benefit; clearly the benefits are many, but the proposition argues that these benefits are not worth the risk.

Alex Haydon, Millfield’s Deputy Head (Academic), was guest judge and commended both teams on their grasp of such a complex and demanding issue. She noted the many strengths of each of the speakers as they sought to outline a sense of moral panic, deliver strong rebuttal, explore the depths of the argument and engage the audience in reflective questions on the merits, or otherwise, of Artificial Intelligence. 

Great House were declared the winners of this year’s competition, having addressed the motion more completely, but Mrs Haydon praised the fantastic debating techniques on show from both teams.

Watch the full debate here: