Gloucestershire charity's report shows how media influences understanding of AI

A new report from Gloucestershire charity Cheltenham Festivals and the University of Bristol has found that the narratives around AI that we see in the media have a profound influence on how people understand — and misunderstand — the technology.

By Chloe Gorman  |  Published
Cheltenham Science Festival and the University of Bristol have released a new report showing that the narratives we see in the media are 'profoundly influential' on how we understand AI.

A new report released to coincide with Cheltenham Literature Festival this October 2023 says that popular narratives around AI are 'profoundly influential' on the way we understand the technology.

The new report produced by Cheltenham Festivals and the University of Bristol's Research Institute for Sociotechnical Cyber Security (RISCS), as part of the ChelTechne summit which took place at Cheltenham Science Festival in June 2023, suggests that the current level of debate around AI needs to be improved.

Senior academics; representatives from the government and intelligence services; science, technology and creative professionals; start-up companies; and industry leaders all collaborated on the research, which found that popular narratives around AI in the media contribute to 'narrow understandings' among the public and professionals. 

Narratives such as applying human qualities to AI; assigning AI super-human levels of power and agency; and assuming either utopian or dystopian futures can be created by AI, influence and distort the way society understands the technology and our ability to plan for and manage the risks and opportunities AI presents. 

Professor Genevieve Lively, Turing Fellow at the University of Bristol and co-author of the report, said: 'AI narratives and debates can be driven by unhelpful binaries and quite narrow understandings of what AI really is.

'We need instead to grapple with AI's realities, by developing broader, better and more specific narratives around this new technology. For example, we urgently need to develop global leadership and collaboration on AI ethics to achieve greater pluralism and diversity.'

Dr Marieke Navin, head of programming at Cheltenham Science Festival and co-author of the report, added: 'The report finds that biases are inherent in AI systems, but also in the narratives we use to talk about them. These narrative biases present challenges to public trust in AI and to the UK’s ambition to become a global science super-power.

'This report — and all our work at ChelTechne this year and in the future — is intended to help face those challenges, and enhance our understandings of this crucial — and sometimes confounding! — technology.'

As well as suggesting that scientists and engineers need to collaborate with storytellers and philosophers to produce better stories about AI, it also asks how we can promote AI literacy amongst the general public; what kind of regulatory framework is required to help govern AI developers and companies; and which individuals and organisations are best placed to provide high-quality responses to the challenges presented by AI.

AI professionals including The Times technology business editor, Katie Prescott; Cambridge politics professor David Runciman; Oxford AI systems expert Michael Wooldridge; and AI ethicist Kanta Dihal discuss the issues raised in the report and whether our fears for the future are misplaced at What if AI Doesn't Change the World? at Cheltenham Literature Festival on Wednesday 11 October 2023 from 6pm to 7pm. 

Ali Mawle, co-CEO of Cheltenham Festivals, said: 'As a charity, Cheltenham Festivals exists to spark curiosity and bring communities together in productive debate to inspire positive change. With its thriving cyber and tech sectors and vibrant cultural scene, Cheltenham is an ideal place to reimagine the conversation around emerging technologies like AI.

'Bringing people together across sectors and industries to ask urgent questions is what festivals like ours are for.'

To find out more about Cheltenham Festivals and to read the full ChelTechne summit report, visit

More on Cheltenham Festivals

More from Business