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The AI Opportunity

June 2024
 by Lord Ed Vaizey

The AI Opportunity

June 2024
 By Lord Ed Vaizey

As you read this, we are in the midst of a hard-fought election campaign in Britain. Everyone expects the incumbent Conservatives to lose and Labour to form a majority government.  The battle is being fought along traditional lines – namely, taxes, spending, pensions and character. 

There is not much debate about technology, nor the buzzword of the year, AI. This is despite the fact that the security services have issued a warning about how bad actors – for which read China, Russia and other authoritarian regimes – could use technology, especially AI, to disrupt our democratic election with disinformation and fake content.

Nevertheless, it is hardly surprising that tech has not featured prominently on the election agenda.  While AI has achieved ubiquity in tech discourse, through consumer applications such as ChatGPT, it is not an issue that dominates the thoughts of the average voter.  Despite this, our prime minister, Rishi Sunak, has devoted an outsized amount of time to the issue in the last 18 months.

New laws

Sunak convened the AI Safety Summit at Bletchley Park, curated by tech entrepreneur Matt Clifford, and established the AI Safety Institute, chaired by Ian Hogarth, with £100 million of funding at a time when resources are scarce. The AI Safety Summit achieved a second iteration in South Korea, and Sunak has achieved his aim of putting Britain at the centre of the debate on how to use AI responsibly. Laws are now being passed; the EU has recently pushed through legislation which characterises AI applications by their risk of causing harm. The UK has sensibly held back from introducing legislation at such an early stage of AI development.

Safety vs. innovation

Some of us have been surprised by Rishi Sunak’s emphasis on AI safety as opposed to investment and innovation. After the US and China, Britain has a fair claim to be one of the leading centres of AI development thanks to companies like Google DeepMind developing an AI ecosystem that has few rivals around the world. While it is important to be alive to the dangers that AI poses, it is crucial to recognise the huge possibilities this new technology brings.

Increased efficiency

I have never been someone who sees AI as a malign technology. I don’t believe that AI will kill us, nor that it will destroy jobs. Quite the opposite. AI will help make businesses much more efficient and used to carry out routine but boring clerical tasks that are essential to the smooth running of an operation.  It will mean that businesses can interact more effectively with more customers, for example through the use of bots. AI will also be used to make firms more energy efficient, and streamline supply chains. 

Reduce public sector costs

No wonder every CEO worth their salt is now talking about how they will deploy AI.  Far from destroying jobs, AI will enable people to do the jobs they really want – such as working more closely with customers. In public services, AI will be a game changer. In health, it will massively improve drug discovery and diagnostics. It will also free up doctors and nurses to focus on essential tasks – namely, looking after patients and managing their care. AI has the potential to significantly improve efficiency and reduce costs in the public sector.

Opportunities in online information

AI is also hugely valuable in the online information space, Digitalis’s specialist area.  Of course, it brings challenges. When protecting their online footprint, clients need to be aware that many customers will now gather information about their company through AI, so they have to be alive to the information that will feed the machine learning. 

But AI will also prove hugely valuable. The amount of information spewed onto the internet every second is far beyond human capability to monitor and manage.  AI is an essential tool to survey this information and to spot unacceptable content and bad actors. New companies such as Sentient AI are using AI to protect particular cohorts. In Sentient AI’s case, it monitors the racist and abusive content regularly posted about sports stars in real time and uses AI to flag content and issue take down notices.

AI can also be used to filter content, protect vulnerable people, and provide users with the tools they need to improve their online literacy. 

As you can see, we are only just scratching the surface of what AI is capable of doing.

As for Rishi Sunak, there is much speculation about what he will do if he loses the next election. Perhaps he could set up an AI Foundation focusing on the massive benefits AI will bring, rather than simply the dangers.

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