At the Northern Powerhouse Business Summit, part of the Great Exhibition of the North, held in early July in the North East, one of the key sessions addressed how we can go about creating a Northern economy that’s fit for the future. As a technology company with an innovation-driven business here in Newcastle, it’s a theme that resonates very strongly at Accenture. The region’s well on its way already. 100 of the fastest-growing technology companies in the North of England and Scotland generated £4.5bn in 2017, more than double the 2016 figure of £1.9bn.
In the North East, we already have in place many of the key building blocks that will drive the future-ready economy. We have great, innovative businesses that are pioneering new digital technologies in diverse fields from financial services to the creative arts. Local and regional government is committed to creating a supportive environment. There are world-class universities carrying out globally-leading research. And of course, the people of the North East have, time and again, proved their ability to move with the times.
We have the raw ingredients for future success. But what are the specific technologies that are going to shape how we make the best use of them?
At our UK Advanced Technology Centre in Newcastle, that’s the question we ask ourselves every day. There’s no doubt that artificial intelligence (AI) is set to play a key role. In fact, it already is. Let’s think about what AI is for a minute. For many people, AI conjures up a world of smart machines replacing people. It’s not a view that I share. Fundamentally, AI is not a single technology but is more usefully thought of as a broader spectrum of digital capabilities that can help people and businesses to work smarter, more efficiently and more productively.
For many of Accenture’s clients, much of the work carried out can be repetitive and transactional, AI is already helping to automate many routine processes. But that is not putting people out of a job. Instead, it’s enabling them to focus their time on work that requires uniquely human qualities such as empathy and creativity.
Or think about how advanced analytics coupled with AI—what we call Applied Intelligence—is changing how we all make decisions and navigate our daily lives. Having those capabilities can help businesses unlock new information and gain new insights from data that will keep them constantly ahead of the game. And that data-driven approach is what all businesses in the North East, regardless of their industry, need to develop for us to evolve to that shared vision of our future economy.
Things are moving fast in our region. There’s real momentum behind the drive to a digital economy. There’s no doubt that AI, data and analytics can transform our world. But we must make sure that as we embrace these exciting developments we are also mindful of and addressing the risks they create. Algorithms can be biased. Data can be flawed. People need to develop the digital skills required to thrive in the digital era. Everybody needs to feel included in the changes. But I’m confident that here in the North East we have what it takes to embrace the challenges, take advantage of the opportunities and power on into an exciting new chapter in our history.
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