Recent headlines in the UK have focused on the economic importance, and value, of AI. It is estimated that AI could add £630 billion to the UK economy by 2035. In April, the UK Government published the AI Sector Deal worth £1 billion which provides the blueprint for how to make UK businesses and citizens AI ready. With research by the Mayor of London showing London ahead of New York, Paris and Berlin as a location for AI companies to do business, the UK’s historic global leadership in this branch of computer science seems to be continuing.
If you only read these headlines you would be forgiven for thinking that AI offers the UK real potential to be an economic global power in the AI arms race. And you would be right. techUK sees huge economic potential and value of AI through its ability to increase productivity across all industries and sectors. But that’s not the end of the story. We also believe that AI can be a power for good and a significant tool to help drive social and personal well-being.
We don’t have to wait for this to happen. The deployment and use of AI technologies, specifically machine learning, is already demonstrating the positive social benefits it can offer. Google’s Deepmind has recently developed an AI system to detect eye disease quicker and just as efficiently as a world leading ophthalmologist. This is a great demonstration of how AI could support and enhance the great work of our NHS and improve the treatment and lives of people with eye disease. Also, across the NHS AI language processing is being used to automate the transcribing of medical notes in healthcare, meaning crucial resources and money saved can be redeployed to invest in more doctors and nurses.
It’s not just in the public sector where AI could help our society, but it can also address societal issues such as the state of our environment. AI algorithms are being trained to analyse drone footage to help to reduce plastics in our oceans by recognising and then identifying those items floating in the sea. In the long term, AI and drone technologies will work together to help clean up our oceans.
In more day-to-day life, AI is also being used to strengthen consumer protections from fraud and are at the heart of the driverless vehicles revolutions which will transform our cities, making them cleaner, safer, more efficient and far more enjoyable places to live for everyone in society. Looking ahead, intelligent autonomous AI-driven systems and tools, powered by data, could hold the answers to tackling some of the biggest issues facing society, such as managing an ageing population and child poverty.
The reality is that the development of AI is no longer science fiction and the pace of AI innovation is increasing. If the UK is to fully embrace and realise the social and economic benefits AI offers, there are many profound social, legal and ethical questions that need to be identified, discussed, understood and answered.
Everyone in society must be part of the discussion about what our AI future will mean for us as individuals, employees, families, communities, companies and as a nation. However, it is vital that the public debate about our AI future remains balanced and constructive. While there are concerns and fears that must be recognised and addressed we must also recognise and promote the positive stories about the role machine learning and AI are playing in people’s lives and delivering changes that people really want. We must be careful not to unintentionally stifle positive change or prevent organisations across the public and private sectors from embracing AI technologies, that have the potential to be a real force and power for social and economic good in the UK.