Following on from a lively and fascinating debate at the Balloon Fiesta Breakfast on ‘Artificial Intelligence: a blessing or a curse?, Business West catches up with Mike Lloyd, Founder of CLWB.org
Do you think Artificial Intelligence is a blessing or a curse for business and the economy?
Overall, AI could be a blessing to both business and the economy because of its potential to boost productivity. According to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, the UK’s productivity is lower than that of the rest of the G7 by 16.3%[i]. At the same time, the World Economic Forum predicts that AI driven labour productivity improvements could boost the UK economy by 3.9%[ii]. For some, however, AI could be a curse. Those organisations who fail to invest and innovate will inevitably feel the heat from UK and foreign competitors.
Do you believe there will be a rise in unemployment with technology taking over?
This fear of unemployment always accompanies new waves of technology, but the reality is that not only do people generally adapt to take advantage of new technology, but the global population continues to grow and prosper on the back of technological innovation. Fears of unemployment were voiced at the start of the Personal Computing revolution, but we now have millions of jobs which could not be done without a PC.
Saying that, AI is different to previous waves of technology because it can replace thinking work. This will undoubtedly cause disruption to all kinds of jobs, including those – like lawyers – which were previously thought a ‘safe’ career.
So, in the same ways as some organisations will find AI a curse, the same can be said for people who fail to make the right education, skills and career choices. Individuals face a stark choice – get on top of AI or have it done to you by someone else.
“The internet has led to a tsunami of crime” said Chief Constable at Avon and Somerset Constabulary, Andy Marsh. Do you agree with this statement?
On balance, the Internet is an extremely good thing. However, the Internet has radically increased the potential attack surface for criminals, accelerated the globalization of crime, and enabled new types of crime to operate on an industrial basis. To put this into context, the global cybercrime economy generates over $1.5 trn[iii] – bigger than the economy of Spain at $1.2 trn. For law enforcement, who have to deal with the full range of criminals from state sponsored organisations, to malicious individuals, it must feel like the Internet has unleashed a tsunami!
The good news is that AI is a powerful tool for countering crime. The bad news is that law enforcement and the security services are in an ‘arms race’ with criminals and hostile governments to deploy the best technology.
As a side note, the Avon and Somerset Constabulary’s use of Business Intelligence is truly world class and I highly recommend learning more about this for anyone interested in BI.[iv]
Should we simplify & democratise AI to ensure that everyone benefits from it – not just big tech companies and a maths and computer science elite?
If we are serious about the equitable distribution of opportunities, we need to disrupt the world of AI by making it accessible to all.
Unfortunately, there are far too few people in politics who truly understand AI and are motivated and capable of driving the right kind of change. In my view, much of the current government’s policy seems to be top down and focused on elitist organisations like The Alan Turing Institute, and academia. The opposition’s idea of taxing robots runs the risk of de-incentivising innovation and driving production abroad.
For policy guidance, we can learn much from the PC era. PCs helped raise productivity because they put computational power into the hands of virtually everyone. Schools taught people how to use PCs, and new industries were formed such as IT training, IT services and software development.
Yes, academia, research, big tech and elites certainly have a role, but to get AI working for us at scale, non-expert working people need to be educated and incentivized to recognize opportunities to augment their work with AI, most business and public sector organisations in this country need to plan how to use AI to help them develop.
The most important thing is that business leaders have the confidence and toolsets to drive AI in their organisations, and this is something that CLWB.org can help with.
What do you think are the biggest challenges for the future generation in business?
Right now, the biggest challenge for business is to know where to start with AI. The media is overflowing with articles and programs about AI, but there is precious little out there which says ‘Step 1, do this…”.
Talent is another challenge. Until AI is simplified, and packaged for easy and low-cost use, Data Scientists and AI experts will be at a premium.
Projecting further ahead, AI will undoubtedly accelerate change, and the amount of work involved in just keeping abreast of change, tracking it and adjusting to it is daunting. And we’ve not yet reached Artificial General Intelligence which could accelerate change even more[v].
Another challenge will be competition from China. China’s government aims to foster a $1 trillion A.I. industry by 2030, and already has 1/2 the global investment in AI startups. It’s impossible to predict where this will lead, but we should be prepared for a much more Chinese-centric future when it comes to AI.
Finally, what are the pros and cons of Artificial Intelligence?
We are already seeing a lot of pros with AI well integrated into many aspects of modern living. The most exciting application areas in my view are medical diagnosis, energy efficiency, and augmenting human creative processes. I look forward to seeing AI disrupt old fashioned industries such as law and education, and to it helping rid the world of fake news, mass ignorance, and political dishonesty. I’m optimistic that we’ll see AI feature in the school curriculum – if India can do this, so can we.
On the ‘cons’ side, it will take effort and smart investment by businesses, government and individuals to understand how AI can be exploited, and leaders will need to be brave and just get their organisations started down the AI path. The alternative is to have AI done to you or your organisation by someone else.
On the whole I’m optimistic. The West of England always has been a cradle of innovation – from iron ships, to vaccination – and we’re already seeing world class companies such as Bristol’s Graphcore beginning to lead the way in AI. I look forward to seeing AI open opportunities for all across the West of England.
[v] Artificial Intelligence General is machine intelligence that – like the human mind – can tackle a range of cognitive tasks
See the article on the Business West website here: