Season 1 – Podcast 4: The West Of Ireland & AI With Murray Shanahan


In this podcast episode, Ina O’ Murchu interviews Murray Shanahan, a senior research scientist at DeepMind. They delve into the captivating history of artificial intelligence (AI) and shed light on the influential figures who paved the way for this groundbreaking field. Understanding the roots of AI is crucial to appreciate its significance and the potential it holds for the future. We also learn about the connection between the West of Ireland, AI and George Boole, mathematician.

Murray Shanahan Background

Murray Shanahan is a professor of Cognitive Robotics at Imperial College London and a senior research scientist at Google DeepMind. With a PHD from Cambridge University he has carried out work in artificial intelligence, robotics, and cognitive science.  Murray was a scientific advisor for the 2014 film Ex. Machina. In 2017 he joined DeepMind, retaining his professorship at Imperial College on a part-time basis.

Books by Murray Shanahan

The Legacy of John McCarthy

John McCarthy, the son of an Irish immigrant also called John from Valentia Island in Kerry  and maybe the most important Irish American computer scientist pioneer and inventor. He is often referred to as the “Father of AI”, was not only a brilliant computer scientist but also had a fascinating Irish heritage that influenced his journey. By coining the term “Artificial Intelligence,” McCarthy gave the field its distinctive name and laid the foundation for further advancements. The Dartmouth conference, a seminal event in 1956, marked the birth of AI and brought together renowned researchers to explore the possibilities of intelligent machines. McCarthy’s contributions to the field are immense and have shaped the way we perceive and develop AI today. 

George Boole, AI and the West of Ireland

George Boole: A Pioneer of the Information Age

When delving into the origins of Artificial Intelligence (AI), it is impossible to overlook the remarkable contributions of George Boole. Boole, an English mathematician, played a significant role in shaping the Information Age through his profound understanding of mathematical logic and his creation of Boolean algebra. His groundbreaking work revolutionised computer science and laid the foundation for modern computing systems.

Interestingly, Boole’s connection to the field of AI extends beyond his scientific achievements. The impact of his teachings and principles at University College Cork continues to resonate in the realm of AI. Boole’s tenure as a university professor had a profound impact on the students and scholars who had the privilege of learning from him. The principles he taught, focusing on logical reasoning and analytical thinking, played a vital role in the progress and growth of AI technologies. The knowledge and skills acquired from his teachings continue to shape the field. His legacy as an educator and his contributions to AI remain influential to this day.

The Family Connection: Boole and Hinton

An intriguing aspect of Boole’s legacy in the field of AI is the family connection that stretches through generations. Geoffrey Hinton, a highly influential figure in AI and deep learning, is Boole’s great-great-grandson. Hinton’s pioneering work in neural networks has propelled Artificial Intelligence to new heights. The connection between George Boole and Geoffrey Hinton exemplifies the enduring influence and intergenerational impact of their family on the world of AI.

The West of Ireland: Nurturing Innovation and Intellectual Development

In addition to their contributions to AI, both George Boole and Geoffrey Hinton share a connection to the West of Ireland. Boole’s time in Ireland, particularly at University College Cork, helped foster an intellectual environment that nurtured his groundbreaking ideas. Likewise, Hinton’s ancestral ties to Boole and his significant contributions to AI serve as a testament to the enduring legacy of innovation in the West of Ireland.

George Boole’s profound understanding of mathematical logic and his creation of Boolean algebra significantly impacted the field of AI. His teachings and principles continue to influence AI research, with his familial connection to Geoffrey Hinton further emphasising their lasting impact. Moreover, Boole’s connection to the West of Ireland highlights its historical importance as a centre of intellectual development and innovation.

DeepMind’s Mission and Artificial General Intelligence

DeepMind, a leading AI research lab, has a clear mission: 

“To create Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) that possesses human-level intelligence across various tasks.” 

AGI represents the next frontier in AI, surpassing narrow AI systems that excel at specific tasks but lack the ability to generalise knowledge. DeepMind’s groundbreaking achievements, such as AlphaGo’s triumph over world champion Go player Lee Sedol, showcase the immense potential of AGI. However, the quest for AGI remains challenging, as developing a system capable of true General Intelligence poses complex technical and philosophical hurdles.

The Future of AI and Ethical Considerations

As AI continues to advance rapidly, it is crucial to approach its development with a balanced perspective that considers both excitement and caution. The potential implications of AGI on society are vast, ranging from transforming industries to influencing our daily lives. Ethical considerations play a vital role in shaping the responsible use of powerful technologies. Drawing lessons from history, we must prepare thoughtfully to ensure AI development aligns with human values, safeguards against biases, and prioritises the well-being of humanity.


The exploration of the history and pioneers of AI unveils a rich tapestry of innovation and progress. From McCarthy coining “Artificial Intelligence” to Boole’s work in Boolean algebra, AI’s roots run deep. DeepMind’s mission to achieve Artificial General Intelligence represents a remarkable endeavour, yet challenges persist on the path towards this grand goal. 

As we navigate the future of AI, it is imperative to maintain a balance of enthusiasm and caution, coupled with responsible and ethical practices. The ongoing quest for AGI holds tremendous potential, and its impact on the future cannot be understated. By learning from the past and navigating wisely, we can utilise AI’s potential for the collective good.




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