Fringe technologies are swiftly moving to the mainstream – and businesses need to be ready

 
Tom Thackray
Japanese auto giant Toyota Motor unveils
Artificial intelligence solves problems (Source: Getty)

Cutting-edge technology can sometimes seem remote to business leaders.

Something for boffins in lab coats or tech wizards in flip-flops, not for the average company. But change is happening now.

Three technologies in particular – artificial intelligence, blockchain, and the Internet of Things – are not just on the business fringes anymore, but shifting rapidly into the mainstream.

Read more: Forget the SciFi-like doomsday myths – AI can benefit society

A new report from the CBI, “Disrupting the future”, sponsored by Vodafone, sets out how businesses can embrace these technologies and what government can do to help. Britain has a golden opportunity to lead the way in unlocking the potential of these technologies and build on our reputation as a hub for disruptive innovation.

Artificial intelligence solves problems. Blockchain changes how businesses exchange value. The Internet of Things unlocks big data. Businesses of all sizes and sectors will be impacted as disruptive technologies go mainstream over the next five years and they have a clear window of opportunity to prepare themselves.

Why should companies invest? Businesses that innovate grow jobs and sales twice as fast as firms that fail to do so, while adopting technology gets the best out of people, with 50 per cent of labour productivity driven by innovation.

Technologies like the cloud were seen as niche just a few years ago – or even dare I say, the internet a few decades back – but they have now matured to underpin much of the UK’s business infrastructure. The same potential is there for these three cutting-edge innovations.

However, while the potential of these technologies becomes clearer to firms, barriers to their adoption remain. Failure to tackle them could mean we miss out on the wider economic benefits that these technologies can bring.

Only a third of businesses say their company has the skills and capabilities needed to adopt AI technologies. Meanwhile, the main concern for those businesses looking to adopt data driven technologies, such as the Internet of Things, is the security and privacy of devices. And while blockchain can be used across many sectors, which is a chief strength, it also means that regulators at domestic and international level must work closely together set clear standards for companies to abide by.

While many of the barriers to adopt can be navigated by firms themselves, getting the adoption of cutting edge technologies right – ensuring we are ready for their impact on our economy and on our society – requires a deep partnership between government, people and businesses.

First, we need to get the regulatory conditions right. That’s why it’s so important rules like the new Data Protection Bill are passed quickly to enable businesses to make the necessary changes.

And second, we must ensure business, government and employee representatives work together to ensure we understand and confidently prepare for the transformative impact on people’s lives, jobs and our society. That’s why the government should set up a joint commission on artificial intelligence in 2018, involving both business and employee representatives, to better understand the impact on people’s lives, jobs and our future economic growth.

For the UK to be globally competitive, for new higher skilled jobs to be created and for businesses to solve the pressing challenges society faces, we need to be bold in making the most of new technologies. We have a great record of adapting to changing technology and the journey starts now.

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