Microsoft warns Britain will fall behind if it doesn’t start seriously focusing on AI

Report: Maximising the AI Opportunity

A Microsoft report titled “Maximising the AI Opportunity” has revealed some worrying gaps in AI technology implementation among UK organisations, gaps which could have major effects on the economy.  Released this week, the report polled more than 5000 experts, leaders and employees in the UK to find out how AI has impacted their organisations and what we can do about it.

Findings: AI experiencing a slow but promising rise in the UK

In the poll, 51% of leaders reported their organisations were still missing an AI strategy.  Despite 59% of workers demonstrating an interest, only 18% of workers were currently learning the skills required to adapt to a workplace with AI.  This might be due to uncertainty on the part of employers on how to go about training employees on the use of AI – 32% expressed doubts – or because only 46% of leaders considered it worthwhile to retrain their current workers.  As a result, 41% of people polled worried that older workers would be made obsolete in the near future.

41% of leaders worried that their current business model would be inadequate within the next 5 years.  The report found that organisations that have already incorporated AI into their companies are experiencing increased productivity and performance in the order of 5%, compared with organisations who have yet to implement AI; and it provided companies with recommendations for integrating AI in their organisations.

The lack of transparency, initiative and direction from employers was cited as a major stumbling block in AI implementation.  Only 44% of workers trusted their leaders to implement AI in a responsible manner, and just 26% were happy with the level of transparency between leaders and employees.

Companies do better when they think about the ethics of AI

The study focused not only on the extent to which AI was integrated in these organisations, but also on how to use AI in an effective and ethical manner.  Interestingly, organisations who expressed an interest not only in AI itself but also in the underlying ethics were outperforming other companies by almost 10%.  Cindy Rose, the CEO of Microsoft UK, remarked, “Only by applying AI in the right way can we harness its extraordinary potential for good.”

The AI market is currently dominated by the US and China, although in the report, Lord Clement-Jones, Chairman of the House of Lords Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence, urged, “Today the UK enjoys a position of AI innovation, so as we enter a crucial stage in its development and adoption, the country has a clear opportunity to be a world leader.  For this, an ethics-backed partnership between business academia and government will be pivotal.”  Ethics may turn out to be the crucial point in AI that will determine which countries and which organisations ultimately get a leg up on the competition.

The UK must take immediate steps to encourage AI development before it falls behind

The “Maximising the AI Opportunity” report was released just before Microsoft’s Future Decoded conference, held in London on October 31-November 1, which brings together leading industry minds to examine the impacts of AI in the business world.  In the keynote speech, Microsoft announced its intent to create multiple programmes to ease the transition to an AI-driven world.

A report titled AI in the UK released in the spring estimated that 10-50% of current jobs would be at risk in the next few decades as a result of AI innovation, a statistic which underlines the need to train workers with the technological skills to help them benefit from restructured workplaces.  Following the study, the British government responded to complaints about the scarcity of AI experts by agreeing to create 200 new PhD positions dedicated to AI in leading universities by the year 2022.

Nevertheless, Britain is not expected to become a leader in AI anytime soon.  According to Goldman Sachs, investments in AI between 2012-2016 amounted to approximately $18.2 billion in the US and $2.6 billion in China, while the UK invested just $850 million during the same time period.  The report suggests the UK try to take a leading role in AI ethics instead, proposing a rudimentary AI code of ethics that would grant its adherents with a seal of approval.

Could this be a more effective way of establishing itself as a major AI player?