Human vs machine or human AND machine?

10 December 2020

Peter Hatfield

Dr Peter Hatfield from Oxford’s Department of Physics is one of five academics to have been awarded a brand new fellowship from intelligence, security and cyber agency GCHQ. Charged with researching technology challenges relevant to national security priorities, Dr Hatfield’s work will be considering "secure" use of artificial intelligence – how to use AI to reliably understand data for global physics challenges.

'Machine learning (ML), algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) are increasingly pervasive in physics,' explains Dr Hatfield. 'As a result, we face a number of difficult decision-making and interpretability challenges: under what circumstances do we decide to believe things based on AI? Would we have believed in the Higgs boson because an algorithm said it was there or do we always need a human in the loop to be truly satisfied? Should one trust ML just "by itself" and how do we combine it with physics theory?

'It is increasingly likely that AI will be used in areas of physics of national importance – energy security, Earth observation and nuclear proliferation for example. For AI to actually be used in these areas it will be necessary to develop well understood "secure" methods of AI, to understand how they can be used to give reliable results, and to protect them from deliberate attacks. My work will develop methods for secure decision-making based on physics data, applicable both for advancements in fundamental physics, as well as for physics problems of national importance.'

As a GCHQ Fellow for National Resilience, Dr Hatfield will work with a mentor from the agency to develop cutting-edge techniques which support national security priorities over a 6-month period. Dr Hatfield works in the Oxford Hintze Centre for Astrophysical Surveys, and has research interests across galaxy physics, cosmology, nuclear fusion and space radiation.

Dr Hatfield concludes: 'It is a great privilege to have been selected and to be able to contribute to these big challenges. I am very excited about what lies ahead.'