Guest blog: The tipping point for AI – and what it means for all of us

Artificial Intelligence (AI) may seem like a trendy catchphrase that’s been thrown about over the past few years – but in fact, it was first coined in 1956 at the Dartmouth Conference, the first AI conference in the world. The intervening decades have seen rapid experimentation in the space, from the first artificial neural network in the 1960s to the moment in 2016 when Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo defeated world champion Lee Sedol in a game of Go.

Whilst standalone projects have demonstrated the promise of AI over the past 60 years, it’s only the last couple that have seen the technology ‘going mainstream’. According to a new report by MMC Ventures, produced in association with Barclays, corporate adoption of AI has tripled in the last 12 months, and the technology is now operative within one in seven large companies. Over the next 24 months, two-thirds of large companies expect to have live AI initiatives running.

Europe has been a key player in this paradigm shift, with a thriving ecosystem of 1,600 AI start-ups. In particular, the UK is the powerhouse of European AI, with nearly 500 start-ups – twice as many as any other country. Germany and France also have flourishing ecosystems with high-quality talent, increasing investment and a growing roster of breakout AI companies. Interestingly, despite a population half the size of Germany, Spain has almost as many start-ups in this space – a contribution that truly exceeds its size.

Against this backdrop of enormous growth and change, however, there are important considerations for both businesses and society.

What does this mean for businesses?

AI presents fruitful opportunities for a number of businesses across different sectors. It is effective at identifying patterns, correlations and subsets in data and forecasting change, for instance. The technology could also profoundly change today’s business models: One example is the transport sector, where the introduction of autonomous vehicles will transform the value chain for car insurance.  

On a more basic level, AI could enable businesses to do their work more quickly – such as drafting contracts in the legal sphere – or with greater reach, such as video consultations for patients in rural areas. One important consideration for businesses, however, will be how to develop data strategies in order to effectively use AI, and consider compliance and data privacy laws to ensure data can be appropriately captured, stored and retrieved.

Businesses will also have to anticipate and mitigate cultural concerns about AI. The technology may be unfamiliar territory for many employees, marking the start of workflow changes. Some may perceive it as a potential threat to their job security so it is important for businesses to address such concerns proactively by highlighting the ways in which AI will support their work.

What does this mean for society?

Whilst the proliferation of AI marks a huge technological shift, we can’t lose sight of the fact that the designers and end users are human. In essence, the ones who will be impacted are us – and our friends, families and communities.

We are at the start of an AI revolution and, to help ensure no one is left behind, it’s vital that we all play in role in democratising AI. This means helping people understand the technology and how it may affect them, and imagining new and effective ways we can all reskill.

Regardless of how the technology develops, we believe AI should not be removed from its two core aims: to solve a real-life problem for people, businesses and society, and to do so in a responsible and inclusive way. This will ensure that human beings remain at the centre of the technology so that when it does become mainstream, everyone comes along with it.

To find out more and read the report, visit: https://labs.uk.barclays/ai 

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