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techUK and Tata Bring AI to Conference

Stellar line up including Digital Minister Matt Hancock MP discuss future of AI at Conservative Conference.

Tata Consultancy Services and techUK, alongside ResPublica, brought together a stellar panel to discuss how AI will shape the UK’s future.

The panel included:

  • Digital Minister, Matt Hancock MP
  • Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Damian Collins MP
  • Tabitha Goldstaub, co-founder of CognitionX
  • Jim Bligh, Director of Government Affairs, TCS
  • techUK’s Deputy CEO, Antony Walker

Busting some of the myths around AI, Tabitha Goldstaub asked the audience how many had a vision of an AI future of robot overlords. While tongue-in-cheek, a significant number of the audience shared concerns about the impact of AI. Tabitha expertly and succinctly explained the difference between narrow AI, where artificial intelligence is used for one specific task, and artificial general intelligence, where a machine can apply general intelligence to any problem. Almost all applications of AI are currently narrow – this could be Alexa or Siri, or even applied to more mundane tasks such as understanding how to improve local rubbish collection.

One of the central questions the panel considered was the impact AI will have on jobs. There was unanimous enthusiasm and optimism at the ability of AI to transform work for the better. AI will predominantly be used to enhance work, allowing greater redeployment rather than unemployment. The panel too, were largely in agreement that innovation typically creates more new jobs than it removes, although Antony Walker stressed the importance of understanding where any employment impacts might be centred. The deindustrialisation of the 1970s and 80s had a tight geographical focus, with a narrow industrial base. As such, it will be vital to understand the geographical distribution of the impact of AI to mitigate any negative effects on jobs and help reskill people.

The issue of mitigation was one that Matt Hancock was keen stress. He argued that the UK has a strong tradition of getting the right frameworks in place to encourage innovation while mitigating any risks. This, he said, was a role for both government and broader civil society. It is not always a regulatory issue but is often a normative issue where informed public debate is key. Adding to this, Antony Walker drew comparisons with the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and suggested a similar institution should be set up to inform and drive public debate around the use of data and AI. This would provide a forum but also an independent and expert body to ensure that academics, businesses and policymakers all have access to the best, impartial information on norms and standards around AI development.

In closing, Jim Bligh summed up the group’s positive view of AI and said that in a globalised world, where countries compete on innovation, reliance on old tech is a greater threat than being a world-leader in innovation. The UK should ensure it uses its competitive advantage in AI to make it a global hub, driving productivity, enhancing jobs and unleashing the next wave of digital growth.


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