The UK – government, business, academia and wider society - has made a strong start in realising the economic and societal benefits of AI, by investing in and focusing on creating an environment that allows AI to flourish. But during any conversation about AI these days, it’s not long before someone raises the question of ethics. Answers to that question, however, are less easy to find. No surprise. It’s tough territory to navigate. But hard as it might be, it’s also one of the most pressing issues society faces today.
Artificial Intelligence (AI), combined with the internet of things, big data analytics, nanotechnology and blockchain, is underpinning the fourth industrial revolution and together, these technologies are impacting how we live and work in a significant way. Whether this impact will be negative or positive is at the heart of the debate that surrounds this topic. Perhaps the biggest challenge, and key to realising the positive benefits coming out of these technologies, is our ability to navigate uncertainty in an ethical, responsible and sustainable way.
Change, by its very nature, creates challenges; and there has been much media focus on the potentially negative impact AI might have, particularly on the workforce. AI and other technologies can be a force for positive change provided a human-centric approach is taken in the development, application and governance of the technology. In that sense, it is critical that people are empowered and enabled by AI and that everybody remains steadfast in this principle. This is not for the principle's sake itself, but so that we realise the economic and societal potential of AI fully. Only by ensuring that government, business, academia and broader societal groups work together to manage the challenges associated with AI, or the 'transition' through this revolution, will the benefits and potential be assured.
The purpose of this paper is to contribute to the current discussion about how to accelerate investment in AI while managing its growth in a responsible and sustainable manner. As part of this task, we have sought to move the debate from the theoretical to the practical, by looking at how AI is being applied today, and how it will be applied in the short- to medium-term. Given the rapid pace of the development of technology, it is difficult to anticipate the associated challenges and opportunities we will face in the next decade, never mind many decades from now. The risk of forecasting too far into the future is that we will either underestimate the benefits or overestimate the challenges. Our focus, therefore, has been to develop insights on how a partnership between government, business, academia and societal groups, can pave the way for future opportunities for the economy and society.