Technology has always changed the way we work. Often for the better. It has improved fundamental tasks like mining and agriculture. Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be no different.
AI is already allowing resources to be moved from repetitive tasks to far more productive, high-value work. Think about that last time you visited a hospital. How many staff were heads down filling in forms rather than heads up caring for patients? Automating administration in hospitals will mean staff can be freed up to do what humans do best – provide care and empathy for others.
AI could boost UK GDP and drive productivity
Studies suggest that leadership in the development and application of AI in the UK will have a huge impact – boosting GDP by 10 per cent by 2030 (£232 billion). Even if it was just half as much, it would still be significant, and the projected positive impact on productivity growth is crucial, as it will drive up long-term living standards.
The growth potential of AI extends across sectors. AI can improve and personalise customer service. It can automate and improve efficiencies in supply chains. And, it can transform the efficiency and effectiveness of our public services – from digitising citizens’ services to ensuring accurate and timely patient diagnoses.
Businesses must go digital first
To take advantage of AI, companies, organisations and public services need to be digitised in the first place. They need the basic digital foundations in place to ensure they have good quality data about how their business or service operates. Organisations that are already digitised are likely to be quicker to apply AI whilst those that are not may get left behind as productivity lags. Getting all businesses started on the digital journey really matters.
AI will certainly transform the UK but with any significant transformation deep, complex social questions must be answered. The most challenging question when considering AI is: what will all this automation do to jobs? There is much to learn from history. We know that big technological innovations can lead to disruption. Significant research has already identified the job types most vulnerable to innovation and their geographic concentrations, which gives us the ability to plan. The biggest mistake would be to stand transfixed in the headlights waiting for the impact to hit. Now is the time to prepare and act.
Revaluing roles that require empathy
Education is key. Where we can predict short-term impacts, we should provide affordable, accessible and relevant retraining so that people can adapt.
In the long-term, we need to think about the roles that only humans can do when working alongside intelligent machines. We need to rebalance our education system to align with the new world of work, revaluing those jobs that focus on empathy, reasoning, creativity and adaptability. These skills are likely to be in demand across an economy augmented by smart machines, even when the work we are doing may be very different to today.
These attributes also need to be encouraged in the next generation through the education system and we should incorporate design, arts and creativity into the existing drive to focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects.
Government is committed to AI; industry must re-skill to keep up
The government is clearly committed to bringing businesses and citizens on the digital journey.
The recent Autumn Budget and the Industrial Strategy outlined ways to further embrace AI in a positive manner. In the Budget, the Chancellor announced a £75 million fund to support AI development, building on our leadership in development and ensuring safe and ethical use.
The new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation means we will have the brightest minds working to help Britain capitalise on digital technology while also considering the social impact and mitigating risks. The Industrial Strategy outlined a much-needed sector deal for AI. These progressive steps give us the platform we need to maintain leadership and drive the AI agenda.
AI holds huge promise for the UK as an economic power and for the welfare of citizens. Government recognises this and must now work with industry, academia and policy makers, to maximise potential while leaving no one behind. We must address the key short-term issues, such as reskilling and digital adoption, and answer key complex social, ethical questions. In acknowledging these issues now, we can use this new technology to shape a future that works for all.