The UK’s Artificial Intelligence Opportunity
AI and ML – challenges, yes; but a world of opportunity awaits for the UK if we get our approach to AI right
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) never seem to be out of the news. For some they represent positive progress; for others, they evoke worrying scenarios of robots and computers taking over with human beings rendered unemployable.
Right now, we’re only at the very foothills of the development of AI technologies. Whilst many of us use AI already (Siri and Cortana, for example), AI is undoubtedly going to play an ever greater role in the future in shaping the way we work in addition to many aspects of our personal lives. It goes without saying that policy makers, businesses and researchers have a huge role in steering that.
View from the market
Of course, AI has a significance well beyond the consumer-facing models mentioned above. Hundreds of new AI companies are emerging all the time, bringing change to every sector. According to Teradata, 80% of US enterprises (including Cisco) are now investing in AI in some form and it’s being harnessed by businesses to transform operations, logistical processes, finance systems and security.
Predicted global AI revenues for the next five to ten years vary widely between analysts, but figures of $100B are not uncommon, and according to JPMorgan, AI could increase global GDP by more than $1.1 trillion over the next 10-15 years.
On the flip side are concerns about how the technology could impact jobs and how data is used. The World Economic forum (WEF) predicts a net loss of over five million jobs across 15 major developed and emerging economies by 2020, for example.
It’s something we’ve covered too, alongside Oxford Economics in The AI Paradox – how robots will make work more human. In our paper, we explore how AI is likely to change the job and result in some job displacement, but not necessarily lost jobs. Retraining and matching skills – both IT and human – will be vital.
AI in the UK
This context provides a unique opportunity for the UK. By building on its unique strengths the UK could grow its position as a global hub for AI development. The UK’s research base, legal expertise, finance industry and openness to adopting new technologies all provide an excellent backdrop.
Last autumn, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport published an independent report on how to grow our AI industry. This was followed in April by the AI Sector Deal and both documents highlight the importance of AI to businesses, public services and individuals. The AI Sector Deal includes several welcome Government commitments, from investing in the right technology to using AI to deliver better public sector services, and a pledge to work with academia to address training and skills gaps.
This concerted action is much needed to bring government, businesses and researchers together on this agenda and create a positive environment in the UK for both the development of the technology and, importantly, the adoption of it by businesses and public services throughout the country and in different sectors, especially where these will enhance productivity and end-user experience.
Skills development in a changing workplace
Ensuring the impact of AI delivers this positive vision for the UK will require the organisations developing and deploying the technology to take responsibility. In addition to ensuring data is collected and used in acceptable ways, businesses will need to be proactive in planning their skills needs and helping develop the next generation of employees.
Cisco offers a strong example of this. As part of our commitment to skills, we launched our UK Skills Manifesto last year and for many years we have provided technology training via our Networking Academies, which incorporates our Computing for Schools programme. All are initiatives to make technology and digital skills training available to as wide a group of people as possible across the UK.
And Cisco’s recently announced partnership with UCL to create an Artificial Intelligence Research Centre will also play a role in developing the UK’s AI and ML advanced skills base. Aligned to both the Industrial Strategy and its subsequent AI Sector Deal, the centre will focus on using AI in valuable ways across industries and sectors from healthcare to transport.
As with any disrupter, there are potential pros and cons. For instance, AI is likely to irrevocably change whole industries, yet could also create new job roles, improve efficiency and add value to existing goods and services. The UK should grasp this opportunity to drive productivity and competitiveness, encourage R&D investment and create a business environment that supports start-ups and scale-ups.
And within the technology industry specifically, sound self-regulation combined with open dialogue with government, citizens and other stakeholders is essential – although it’s important that caution doesn’t stifle innovation.
With careful and considered execution the UK can get this balance right and will be on track for success.