02 May 2018, Royal Albert Hall

Chair, Members of Court and Council, colleagues, graduates, distinguished honourees, ladies and gentlemen. 

It is my honour, as the President of Imperial College London, to welcome you to the 2018 Postgraduate Graduation.

Today we honour our graduates and awardees, we celebrate their accomplishments and we give them our best wishes for the future.

I want to give a special welcome to their friends and family members.  Earning a graduate degree at Imperial involves many months of hard, intensive work. Your encouragement and support has been essential to their success. You have contributed to their achievements and you deservedly share in the joy of today’s celebration. 

Seated behind me on this historic stage are my distinguished colleagues. They are exceptional researchers, teachers, mentors and academic leaders. They have an unending dedication to the pursuit of knowledge and to your education and mentorship.  We all benefit from that dedication and we owe them our gratitude.  Please join me in thanking them.

Seated with our colleagues to my right is our Provost, Professor James Stirling, who will be retiring this summer. Over the past five years James has guided and led our core academic mission. His leadership, vision and collegiality will be greatly missed. James, thank you for your leadership.

Graduates. You receive your degree at an exciting, yet challenging time.

Revolutionary changes in technology, communications and information are transforming the way we work, collaborate and solve problems. The data available to us is increasing rapidly. Computers are becoming more powerful. Our ability to analyse truly complex problems is improving.

In business, in government, at universities, and, in our personal lives, we now routinely work with, and depend upon, machines.

The promise of artificial intelligence has become the era of artificial intelligence. Its powerful capabilities and prevalence will be an important part of our professional and personal lives.

Professor Stephen Hawking, to whom we awarded an honorary degree last year and whose passing we recently mourned, warned of the potential dangers of artificial intelligence and machine learning. He was a harsh critic. But he also said, "I am an optimist and I believe that we can create AI for the good of the world. That it can work in harmony with us. We simply need to be aware of the dangers, identify them, employ the best possible practice and management, and prepare for its consequences well in advance.”

How do we best follow Professor Hawking’s counsel? How do we work in harmony with machines? How do we navigate this challenging era of change and opportunity?

I believe that an important part of the answer is that we must exercise good judgment. 

At my annual address in March, I said that good judgment comes from combining knowledge with context and empathy.  We need to listen to the world around us. And our first instinct should be to try to understand those things that we do not understand.

As you leave this magnificent hall with your Imperial degree, you are prepared to navigate and contribute to this new era.

Apply what you have learned both inside and outside this great university to hone your judgment.

Consider four things:

First, use your researching skills. Think beyond the obvious. Dig into facts. Check sources. Test hypotheses.  Sense-check the proposition before you.

Second, develop and maintain a trusted group of advisors and mentors.  Seek perspectives from those having diverse viewpoints. Have role models.

Third, be nostalgic. Think about what you have learned from others along the way. Many of my fondest memories as a young academic at Stanford carry subtle lessons by virtue of the examples of things my colleagues, my students and my friends said and did.   

Finally, follow your heart, your gut instincts, your intuition. These reflect your values. Trust your values when you need to make important decisions.   

You are forever part of this wonderful university. I hope that in the days and years to come you will reflect on how you grew as scholars and individuals during your time here. And I hope that your appreciation and affection for the College grows.

Maintain your connection to Imperial. Stay in touch with your classmates and professors and share your experiences with us. Please come back as alumni and inspire the next generation of students with your successes.  

All of us are very proud of you.

Congratulations.