At the risk of sounding like clickbait, here’s how you can get 10% richer. Use AI.
OK, I generalise, but it is estimated that the widespread adoption of artificial intelligence by government and the private sector could add over 10% to UK GDP. No wonder the government has invested so much in ensuring that the UK is a leader in the field. We are behind only the US and China, which given our relative size is surely a creditable performance.
These figures opened last week’s meeting of The Whitehall and Industry Group, which brings together the civil service and businesses for each to learn from the other. We heard from Sana Khareghani, the head of the Government’s Office for Artificial Intelligence, whose self-description as a “massive dork” belies a passionate and fluent communicator. She brought good news about how much the government continues to invest in scholarships and education generally so that the UK talent pool continues to expand and that that talent pool is fully diverse.
As an employment lawyer, my primary focus is the use of AI in the workplace. How ready, I have wondered, are people to accept a role for artificial intelligence in taking fundamental decisions about their employment. I asked if there would be more regulation to ensure transparency to help win the necessary public acceptance.
It was a bit of an unfair ask in one sense, as new law is not going to be announced in that forum. However, she was emphatic that government see the social acceptance of the technology as a priority. We should expect to see something in response to the work of the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (see my previous blog) The government’s AI council has spoken of the importance of educating the public in just what the technology can and cannot do. The next questioner asked whether she thought it unhelpful that the government had made reference to “rogue algorithms” in seeking to explain certain events, presumably a reference to the exams debacle last summer. Ms Kharagheni was diplomatic but stressed the importance of dispelling myths in this field and providing accurate and transparent information to stakeholders to explain when things go wrong, as well as when things go right.
Other questioners drew out an interesting discussion about a need for government to make more of its data available to the private sector if the benefits of this technology were to be fully realised. However, what to me was more interesting still was the discussion which took place in my break-out room afterwards, where participants highlighted the gap between the government’s passionate embrace of AI and the ability of both the public and private sectors in the UK to manage data in such a way that AI might actually be useful. It is not just the NHS, that perennial example of inadequate IT, that is incapable of sharing relevant data internally, let alone externally. Most of the UK private sector, the conversation went, lags behind other countries in data analytics, a necessary precursor to adopting AI.
Is that really the case? We have had some input recently to the AI ethics framework for one of Britain’s leading companies. From an HR perspective, it was fascinating – indeed, inspiring – to see how transparency and accountability are literally being built into the system. It is however slightly depressing to think that this admirable company might be an outlier, not because of the sophistication of its approach but because other organisations do not have the systems in place to make adoption of the new technology worthwhile. Perhaps the Government’s evangelism for AI will spur a revolution first in data management: let us build our bridge to the Promised Land (and 10% richer…)