Scholar Spotlight - Thomas Mason

Laidlaw Scholar Thomas Mason on exploring how AI supports decision-making processes and taking inspiration from the leaders in his life.
Scholar Spotlight - Thomas Mason
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Thomas Mason, a University of York Laidlaw Scholar, on exploring how AI supports decision-making processes and taking inspiration from the leaders in his life.

Research title: How is augmented decision making impacting digital transformations across businesses?

Technology has completely transformed society and led us to a new revolution. It equips us to tackle world issues that have not been possible to do by ourselves. A study in 2018 by PwC estimates global GDP may increase up to $15.7 trillion by 2030 due to the rapid expansion and adoption of AI technologies. This take-up has been contributed by businesses using AI to enhance their decision-making processes. 

My research explores the concept of augmented decision making, the relationship between humans and machines in a business environment, and how AI is being deployed across businesses as a support tool for their decision-making processes. Augmented decision making is the process of amplifying human intelligence and decision making through the use of AI. We can do this by feeding the AI a vast amount of data, which then gets analysed and presented to us with a set of predictions or patterns. AI is much more efficient than us at handling and processing large amounts of data, saving time and resources. There have even been cases where AI has predicted outcomes that we didn't even notice! 

Towards the end of my research, I began to focus on the ethical and socioeconomic impacts of adopting these technologies on society. This has now led me and my mentor, Dr. Philip Garnett, to be currently co-writing a policy brief around the role of AI in society. It focuses on economic growth and job loss - this report highlights how 30% of jobs are at risk of automation by the mid-2030s.

Where did your passion for this research originate?

Throughout our lives, we have witnessed this rapid growth in the use of these technologies. Every day, we interact with technology, and I am sure that you will be reading this on a device even now. Since a young age, I have always had a strong interest in technology and engineering. Naturally, I studied this through my further education, where my passions led me further into the field. I remember my friend showing me an article about the first time a machine had beaten a world champion at chess. This sparked my curiosity, and I started looking more into artificial and computational intelligence, specifically, machine and deep learning. 

Fast forward a few years, and I came to my university to study electronic engineering. I noticed the Laidlaw Scholarship Programme and knew this was my opportunity. I wanted to further explore AI and how it supports us in our decision making processes. This is crucial for us to understand. We need to be conscious of how we can utilise this technology in the best way possible to help us solve world issues like the UN's 17 sustainable development goals

However, with my limited experience and knowledge of the field, I struggled to narrow down specifically my project. Thankfully, my mentor helped me narrow the field down to something that is currently a very hot topic in the world.

Real-life leadership lessons

My leadership skills have been paramount in many aspects of my life. At university, I am currently the treasurer for ShockSoc - our engineering society. We now have over 190 members, and being on the committee, the leadership skills that the programme has taught me have been invaluable. I have created an environment where the team's ideas are actively being turned into actions. I have built a diverse network and relationships with various people and organisations so that we can work alongside them in our activities.

I have also been fortunate enough to be elected as the course representative within my department over the past two years. Using my leadership skills in this role has been critical as my fellow coursemates rely on me to be the feedback between the department and us. Communication and confidence are essential, along with being able to work alongside others. I learnt that you need to make sure that you are someone who people are comfortable being around. Why would someone tell you their feedback if they don't feel at ease or comfortable? Luckily for me, I am approachable. However, I have seen some people switch themselves off from their networks because they were not always approachable. 

Top leadership tips

⚡️ Be curious, ask why? 

⚡️ Always look at ways to step outside your comfort zone and into the learning zone.

⚡️ Be trustworthy - Humanity is built on trust. Be reliable and be true to your word. Remember, it also starts with being true to yourself too.

⚡️ Never be late - An early bird catches the worm! 

⚡️ Use honest appreciation - If you begin to appreciate those around you more often, you will find that it will strengthen your relationships and team further.

What does it mean for you to be a Laidlaw Scholar?

Being a Laidlaw scholar has strengthened me as an individual to become an emerging future leader. It has allowed me to be part of a community filled with like-minded individuals who want to make a positive impact across the world. Every scholar that I have met so far has amazed me. We all come from different walks of life, but the values and morals we share are the same. Our research may also be from distinct disciplines, but it highlights topics that need to be talked about in the world. The Foundation invests so generously in its scholars, which makes us determined to pursue our dreams and strive to create the future we want to see.

Which leaders inspire you and why?

I would like to mostly step away from the traditional type of leaders for this question. The reason why is because most of my inspirations come from people who are directly involved in my life and have motivated and led me to be who I am today. 

My mother is undoubtedly a massive inspiration to me. She motivates me to try my best, even if the odds are against me. She is a selfless person who has made sacrifices to ensure that I have a better life. Especially in my teenage years, when I had no father figure around, she carried a lot of pressure with a brave face. 

My grandfather. He may have been living in another country, but his encouragement and enthusiasm could be felt as if he was in the room. He was highly optimistic, and his fighting mentality ensured that he never gave up. 

The engineers, mathematicians, and scientists in the world who are on the frontline creating technology and other tools to benefit humanity and solve world issues are also inspirational leaders. They inspire us to drive innovation, be creative, and be curious. Our imagination is powerful.

Briefly describe a scene from the future you are striving to create.

A famous quote is, "It's not where you start but where you finish that counts". I am a firm believer in this. The project may start slow, but what matters is how it will finish. You may come from a low socioeconomic background, but that should never limit your potential. Anyone with the right motivation and mindset in what they want to do should be able to access the right resources they need to achieve their goals—especially if it will positively impact the world. 

I am striving to create a future where everyone is the best they can be, no matter where they started in life. The Laidlaw programme empowers people like me to reinvest my skills and knowledge to help others succeed and do this. I am proud to be working with the Timothy Smith Network in the summer for my LiA. Their focus is to bridge the digital divide by creating opportunities for people of all ages to access technology and technology education.

Quick-fire Questions

📺 Currently binging: Mindhunter

📚 My top book recommendations: 

Life 3.0 - Max Tegmark

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind - Yuval Noah Harari

Never Split the Difference - Chris Voss

 🎧 Podcast obsession: Lex Fridman Podcast.

🌈 Something that made me feel joy recently: For those programmers out there … for me it was when my code compiled and ran without errors! 


You can find Thomas on LinkedIn and Twitter. Thomas is a Laidlaw Undergraduate Leadership and Research Scholar at the University of York. Become a Laidlaw Scholar to conduct a research project of your choice, develop your leadership skills, and join a global community of changemakers from world-leading universities.

Find out more about the Laidlaw Undergraduate Research and Leadership Scholarship.

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