OPINION - The AI revolution is coming and this is how Britain can ride the wave
Artificial Intelligence — two words bandied about so frequently this past decade that they began to lose all resonance. It took the launch of ChatGPT to take AI from the niche into the mainstream. As millions played with OpenAI’s creation, the jaw- dropping capabilities of machine learning became clear; how its implementation into the everyday will revolutionise our working lives and financial economies. We see clearly now the powerful potential – what we need is joined-up thinking to ensure the UK becomes an AI-accelerated superpower.
There is no industry sector that will not benefit from some use of AI. Enhancing personalised medical care, improving government services and aiding software development are just some of the key areas that AI will radically affect. AI has already transformed warfare and is proving critical in Ukraine in intelligence gathering. Helping to direct ‘seek and destroy’ missions with drones, by organising and labelling vast quantities of data collected through satellite imagery, is just one example. To beat Russia we won’t win with tanks and men but with information, labelled and organised at lightning speed to give battlefield advantage.
Initially your gut feeling about AI is one of panic: it will mean no more white-collar jobs, with low-skilled jobs also wiped away. Not true. We will re-educate and innovate our skills. We must not fear the future — humans are remarkably creative as well as destructive. Look at the ingenuity that came to the fore when faced with a global pandemic. Humans won, not the virus. That doesn’t lessen the need for careful monitoring as AI begins to take hold. Regulating AI systems is a challenge that we cannot shirk — biased models, broader risks to business, society and use of personal data are sizable hurdles. The EU Artificial Intelligence Act is expected to go through the EU Parliament at the end of this month.
Our government must educate consistently to show how AI will not just benefit a few but everyone; not take jobs but create opportunities. This is no easy task. In fact, it is of mind-boggling proportions.
To date, the UK is lagging behind in implementing AI efficiently, certainly through our vast government departments (except possibly in GCHQ). AI can improve efficiency, lower costs and free up the public sector to focus on the roles we are good at — caring, creating, innovating. This is about smarter working. Harnessed properly in both the private and public sectors, AI should drive productivity and lead to a better work-life balance, not lower wages and fewer jobs.
Among all the Budget noise and Gary Lineker’s tweeting, blink and you would have missed the renewed focus on AI in Number 10 these past weeks. It reflects our PM’s appetite for innovation and rapid tech adoption, another of the reasons I supported him winning the party leadership last summer. He may look, dress and act like a Silicon Valley tech bro at times, and I can understand why that can be off-putting, alienating even. But we need a prime minister that is 100 per cent centred on driving our economy into the future. Otherwise, growth will continue to stagnate; we will lose the race in science and technology if we do not also surge in AI creativity and adoption.
The Government recently identified AI as one of the critical technologies that the UK needed to rapidly pursue. There is a new Minister for AI, Viscount Camrose. And a freshly launched taskforce, focusing on AI foundation models (such as ChatGPT), and chaired by Matt Clifford MBE. The taskforce’s first priorities will be to research and then deliver a mission on how to advance our AI capability.
Focus on artificial intelligence is not new in Westminster but now is the moment for greater awareness and education. And another huge push for investment. We need to be developing our own rival ChatGPT, our own Palantir. The UK is ranked third globally for private investment into AI companies and is home to a third of Europe’s total AI businesses, so we have a lot to be proud of. But Europe is adopting AI better than we are — only one-third of UK companies have accelerated their use of AI in the past two years, compared with a European average of 49 per cent. For many medium size businesses, AI could be the technology that could accelerate them into global giants.
We don’t all need to look and act like tech bros, but we should think more like them.
Hunt cribbing off podcast is embarrassing
Jeremy Hunt, on his Budget media round on Thursday morning, must have thought it charming to credit his hosts on the Newsagent podcast — Emily Maitlis, Jon Sopel and Lewis Goodhall — for an episode he said informed his decision to support 30 hours of free childcare from nine months old. But personally, I found it rather depressing. These are women’s lives he’s talking about.
Admitting that you got information off a podcast, even if it was untrue as the Budget would have been decided weeks beforehand, merely casts him as a typical male in power shrugging off female economic concerns that should be front and centre of Treasury thinking, not portrayed as an afterthought that he picked up from a news show.
Celebrity overshare never ends
And so the slew of celebrities talking about their vulnerabilities continues, this time with Paris Hilton, below. There is a familiar vein in her new memoir: that of reclaiming the narrative of her life from the media.
I remember Hilton’s raging, dazzling youth — the first reality TV It Girl, all money, blondeness, fun, fashion, and endless parties. I lived nearby in LA and once visited an apartment she was renting. It was like any other teen girl’s home, filled with clothes, make-up and chaos.
I don’t buy that she always resented the paparazzi attention. But she was a victim of media misogyny. I just wish celebrities would stop bandying the word ‘trauma’ around. The more it’s repeated, the more concocted it sounds, even when in Hilton’s case it clearly isn’t.