Of all the hot topics discussed at another balmy day at London Tech Week, one stood out feverishly from the rest – artificial intelligence, and how it will impact global economies.
Around the world, governments are racing to get to grips with AI and establish effective strategies to regulate it. Today, lawmakers in the European Parliament approved the latest draft of the EU’s AI act, which proposes unprecedented restrictions on how companies use the emerging technology.
In his opening keynote on Monday, the prime minister vowed to make the UK “the geographical home of global AI safety regulation”. Sir Keir Starmer used his interview at London Tech Week yesterday to explain how Labour expects AI to transform the economy, with a specific focus on its impact on the workforce.
It’s no surprise then that the AI Summit – which kicked off today and continues tomorrow at Tobacco Dock – formed one of the most eagerly anticipated events of the week. Much has been written about the potential of AI to replace 300 million jobs, with researchers even warning the technology poses a “risk of extinction” to humanity and urging the threat to be prioritised alongside other societal-scale risks such as “pandemics and nuclear war.”
While caution is always needed when it comes to emerging tech, it’s also important not to let the hysteria and moral panic about the short-term impact of AI distract from the transformational potential it may have on society in the long term. It’s all about mitigating the risks effectively.
Whether it’s the ICO or the CMA, UK regulators have a strong international reputation for good governance and not bowing to pressure from major tech players. The CMA’s decision last month to block Microsoft’s merger with Activision Blizzard was a great example of the power of UK regulatory bodies to ensure companies are accountable for their actions.
This strength will be needed when it comes to AI. The boldness of the prime minister’s commitment on Monday to position Britain as a global leader on AI discourse was commendable, and the UK certainly should play a central role in regulating the technology.
But the truth is that AI regulation requires an international approach. In the same vein as the World Health Organisation or the World Trade Organisation, the most important step will be forming a global body with the power to implement frameworks which provide safeguards for AI, while also allowing for innovation.
As the European Parliament has done today, establishing clear cross-border legislation for how companies can use AI will also be vital for reassuring investors that the industry represents a safe home for their money.
On top of all of this, there’s the impact that AI will have on jobs. While in the past automation has predominantly impacted ‘routine’ tasks, AI has the potential to take over more professional or highly skilled jobs too, including those in the legal and banking sectors.
And although AI will undoubtedly create thousands of new jobs, one key question is whether the UK will have the required number of skilled workers to fill them. One third of businesses are currently being held back by a lack of basic tech skills, with tech vacancies reaching the highest number in a decade last year.
To avoid job insecurity and ensure Britain can realise the technology’s full potential, widespread reskilling and upskilling programmes – both from the government and the private sector – will be needed to ensure workers are equipped with the fundamental tech skills to make use of new AI tools.
Thankfully, we will be building on strong foundations. The UK has earned a proud reputation as a strong AI hub, stretching back to 2014 and Google’s acquisition of DeepMind. Indeed, data from Beauhurst shows AI to be the top tech vertical for VC investment in the UK, with 554 deals in the last 12 months.
Even companies and organisations that won’t directly be using AI stand to benefit. Whether it be improving decision-making at fintech companies or helping teachers to plan their lessons, the potential applications for society are vast.
What’s vital, however, is that safeguards are put in place to protect against the risks AI poses and to ensure our workforce is prepared for the future. This will require international collaboration – and there’s no better forum to bring leaders from around the world together to build partnerships for the future than London Tech Week.