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How the UK will approach artificial intelligence job disruption

Mon 11 Jun 2018

artificial intelligence

The UK technology sector will have to lose its fear of failure and embrace the artificial intelligence revolution, the Minister for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has argued.

Matt Hancock MP, speaking at the CogX event in London, said that more firms should take the ‘fail fast’ approach embraced by so many technology organisations around the world.

“Both in the private and public sector, I want to see more freedom to fail,” Hancock said. “Anybody who’s been involved in a startup knows that the freedom to fail is vital to even starting.

“In government, having been responsible for driving out the use of digital technology, I know that concerns about risk are often a big reason why things move slowly.”

Artificial intelligence in the UK

He also emphasised the importance of the UK getting on board with artificial intelligence and similar disruptive technologies, so that it doesn’t get left behind. According to Hancock, there is little point in trying to stem the tide of job disruption as a result of artificial intelligence. Instead, he believes that we should embrace new types of work that emerge.

“My view having studied this is that the jobs that are going, are going anyway. The policy question we have is ‘how do we get the new jobs here?’ We need to do what is necessary to ensure that the jobs that are being created by technology are here in the UK.

“The tech is going to be created somewhere, and then people will adopt it, and the jobs will go there. The longer you stand in the way of that, as we’ve seen from past experience in Britain, you end up losing the jobs anyway.”

Related: Can we have ethical artificial intelligence?

The impact of AI on the economy was a big discussion at the event. One moderator took a quick poll of the audience to find out how many members thought AI represents a net good or harm to the UK economy. Perhaps unsurprisingly at an artificial intelligence event, the response was resoundingly in favour of ‘good.’

Panellist Professor Joshua Gans, author of Prediction Machines, agreed, asking “why would an increase in productivity be seen as a bad thing? The better question is how to get AI to make our jobs easier rather than taking them away.”

On the same panel, JP Rangaswami, CDO at Deutsche Bank, also argued that the positive impacts of AI outweigh the bad. Rangaswami’s argument went that the impact AI technology can have on big problems such as medicine or traffic infrastructure in congested cities is purely a good thing, and doesn’t take jobs away.

There is also a big issue with talent in the artificial intelligence market, and not just in the traditional sense of hiring and firing. There are fears that as we come to rely more on the technology, existing biases and inequalities will be reinforced.

In this area, then, there is constant discussion of diversity and equality. Hancock expanded on those ideas, arguing that “it’s not just about getting things right, it’s also that if you don’t pursue gender diversity, you’re only fishing from half the pond. Diversity in tech isn’t just a moral imperative, it’s good business sense too.”


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