The CBI is calling on the government to establish a joint commission tasked with examining the impact of AI on people and jobs across all sectors of the UK economy.
Based on research it conducted into the way that technology is changing the way we live and work, the CBI said recently that it had identified three technologies - AI, Blockchain and the Internet of Things - that are set to move from the fringes to the mainstream within the next five years.
However, it also found, that only a third of businesses currently have the skills and capabilities needed to adopt AI technologies, and that more needs to be done to help prepare those companies for the future.
The aim of the commission, the CBI said, would be to examine the impact of AI on people and jobs, and to subsequently set out plans for action that will “raise productivity, spread prosperity and open up new paths to economic growth”.
The CBI suggests innovative firms grow twice as fast - both in terms of employment and sales - and that adopting new technology can get the best out of workers. Investment in technology could help bolster Britain’s poor record on labour productivity, which is among the worst in the G7 and is failing to improve in line with expectations since the financial crisis. The OBR was forced to downgrade its estimates for labour productivity growth just recently, wiping out about two-thirds of the government’s £26bn budget surplus from 2017 to 2021. The development will come as a blow to the chancellor, Philip Hammond, as it will remove headroom for his public spending plans before the budget next month.
The CBI said almost half of firms were planning to devote resources to AI, while one in five had already invested in the technology in the past year. Companies are increasingly using computers to scour vast datasets in order to spot inefficiencies, while they are also employing machines to control the flow of activity in warehouses and factories and to take meter readings.
Indeed, the number of AI jobs in Britain has soared 485% since 2014 and RWA has been working with AI start-ups in London, Oxford and along the Thames Valley, many since they were first founded. The CBI’s call to examine the impact of AI is indeed urgent - it is vital that the impact on jobs, skills, education and the recruitment of talent is studied to examine how the UK can prepare for the future.
RWA has also witnessed AI moving into mainstream recruitment with tech start-ups introducing AI into the recruitment process with the aim of increasing diversity and efficiency. Elsewhere, Business Insider reports that Unilever has been using AI to screen entry level candidates for the past year. The new process includes candidates spending about 20 minutes playing 12 neuroscience-based games. If their results match the required profile of a certain position, they move on to an interview, where they record responses to pre-set interview questions. The AI technology analyses things like keywords, intonation, and body language, and makes notes on them for the hiring manager.
Such is the pace of demand British universities are being stripped of artificial intelligence (AI) experts in a brain drain to the private sector that is hampering research and disrupting teaching at some of the country’s leading institutions. Scores of talented scientists have left or passed up university posts for salaries two to five times higher at major technology firms, where besides getting better pay, new recruits can take on real-world problems with computer power and datasets that academia cannot hope to provide. Universities exist, in part, to meet the needs of industry, but the fierce demand for skilled AI researchers is heavily outstripping supply and is definitely in danger of creating a ‘missing generation’ with consequences for future teaching and research.
Accountancy firm PwC warned in March that more than 10 million workers may be at risk of being replaced by automation. And speaking to an audience at UCL, the former Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, predicted that the rise of big tech companies and AI would cause the current economic system to undermine itself. “Technology is going to destroy a lot more jobs than it creates,” he said. The chief executive of Tesla, Elon Musk, has also vocally and repeatedly warned about the increasing dominance of technology. In July he described AI as “a fundamental existential risk for human civilisation”.