The UK must be prepared for the impact of AI
AI is sweeping through one industry after another, reshaping the skills people need at work. If the UK is to keep pace, we must ensure our people are prepared for change, says Stephen Metcalfe
We live in a period of unprecedented technological change, and the pace of change is only accelerating.
Advances in genomics and gene editing are changing the way we view, diagnose and treat diseases.
We are connected to each other and the world around us 24/7 through a global communications network – helping us know more about each other and the planet we inhabit than ever before; making a world of over seven billion people seem at times like a collection of villages defined by shared interests rather than geography, where language and location are no barrier to the creation of communities.
Our knowledge of our planet and its place in the universe expands almost exponentially year on year as we find the very building blocks of the universe and see objects travel from our world to other planets and beyond.
And we are starting to harness the incredible power of quantum technology that will help us build more advanced computers, and use quantum properties to develop more sophisticated sensors and scanners to give us a better understanding of the world around us.
But the most transformational technological advances – those that underpin many of the achievements above – are being seen in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), which is increasingly impacting our daily lives.
Most of us already interact with AI in some form on a daily basis. From the moment we check our smartphone in the morning and find that it’s suggesting which app we may wish to open based on previous use, to last thing at night when we ask Alexa to turn off the lights.
When calling our bank to apply for credit or assessing a benefits application, AI and algorithms are playing a part. It also defines the adverts we see when we check in to Facebook or Twitter.
But also, AI is increasingly analysing MRI scans looking for anomalies as early indicators of disease – often more accurately than the human eye.
AI is here, but this is the tip of the iceberg. With autonomous vehicles a matter of a few years away and AI being deployed in our legal and financial systems, we have to be ready for the impact it will have.
And the impact will be huge, none more so than on the future of work.
There are two very distinct schools of thought on the impact AI will have on work. At one end of the spectrum there are those who have an apocalyptic view, believing that AI presents the biggest risk to jobs since the industrial revolution with the potential to displace people from the workplace at an unprecedented rate. Some even believe that, by 2050, 50% of jobs as we know them now will have vanished, leading to mass unemployment and greater inequality as automation replaces humans in the manufacture, distribution and sale of goods and services.
While at the other end of the spectrum there are those who adopt the utopian view that all will be well, believing that AI and automation will augment humanity and allow us to reach levels of knowledge and heights of achievement never previously believed achievable or even dreamed of. They believe that AI will spawn new industries and create new jobs, in the manner of previous industrial revolutions; that it will allow humans to focus on things machines are not so good at – expressing emotions, caring for one another, expanding our creativity and developing deeper empathy for one another.
The reality, I believe, lies somewhere between the two. But what I believe is unquestionable is that AI in all its forms is going to change our lives – probably more rapidly than ever before and in ways we can’t yet imagine.
So, we have to prepare. We need to ensure that all our citizens are aware of the impending changes, that they have the skills to adapt to rapid changes in work practices, and that we support them in finding new ways to be productive and rewarded members of society.
Get it right and the UK, and all our citizens, will benefit hugely from our predominance in the AI field. Get it wrong and we will face questions as to why we were not prepared and others were.
Stephen Metcalfe is Conservative MP for South Basildon and East Thurrock, and chair of the APPG AI – a forum for discussion and the authoritative source of information on AI for parliamentarians.