A director’s guide to embracing AI

Russ Shaw, founder of Tech London Advocates

Russ Shaw, founder of Tech London Advocates, a global network of 6,000 tech leaders, offers a director’s guide to embracing AI

What, for you, are the most inspiring possibilities of this technology?

The scope for progress in this area is vast. One thing that springs immediately to mind is the opportunity to combine the emerging tech with human abilities. Incorporating augmented-reality systems with our bodies could confer on us sensory powers far beyond our existing vision and hearing capacity – and even advanced motoric skills.

Which occupations are safest from a robot takeover?

Any discipline that involves creativity and the most advanced human cognitive skills will not be affected for a considerable time. While robots are able to recognise and analyse existing data and matter, they have limitations when it comes to producing art, music, film or literature. Similarly, fields that involve a high degree of human judgement, such as the law and medicine, will not easily be affected. When matters are not strictly black or white, AI will struggle to determine the correct outcome. That is where the trained human mind is invaluable.

What are the best applications of AI you’ve seen so far?

One area that needed addressing – and is set to be transformed by AI – is eldercare. Technology that offers older people social companionship through an AI assistant, keeping them active, engaged and connected, is now available. On a lighter note, Starbucks offers an AI-powered app that orders an iced tea using only voice recognition. It makes for a smoother morning commute.

Which sectors are leading the way in the adoption of AI?

The financial services industry has long been a pioneer in this respect. This is no surprise, given the sector’s reliance on massive amounts of data. Citibank was working on first-generation expert systems as long ago as the 1980s. A modern AI system can now perform a complete analysis of market conditions to recommend the optimal financial product. Service providers have also implemented AI to improve compliance and fraud detection.

Marketing and advertising is the other notable pioneer. While artificially intelligent posters are still at an experimental stage, the technology is particularly relevant for the application of pattern recognition and cognitive learning systems that help to process sales leads.

What is the UK’s standing in the development of AI technology?

This country is a global leader. The discipline will become a key part of the British economy, so we must set a standard for the correct adoption of the technology. Otherwise, we could harm a potentially lucrative industry through unsuccessful implementation.

Are business leaders in this country adequately prepared?

AI’s rapid expansion has left many firms struggling to catch up with developments, but we have to remain optimistic and believe in the adaptability of British businesses. Companies must learn to adapt and protect both their employees and their customers, thereby creating growth and securing future investment.

What are the biggest pitfalls that you associate with AI?

The main danger comes if you ignore the power of the technology while using it in your business. There is a risk that data- handling practices will violate privacy legislation, as we saw in 2016 when the National Health Service unlawfully shared millions of patients’ records with DeepMind.

There’s also the possibility that a company’s culture will take a hit as more tasks become automated, reducing the levels of human interaction and teamwork. Furthermore, AI will be increasingly used by businesses to search huge databases during the hiring process, so we must ensure that diversity and inclusion is part of the software development process – even machines can have built-in biases.

What advice would you offer business leaders seeking to become AI savvy?

First and foremost, don’t be complacent. Whether your sector is seeing considerable change or not, every business leader should be aware of AI’s implications. It’s likely that a proportion of your staff will need retraining because of AI – and it’s better to start that process early. Courses teaching digital skills should be a priority.

Click here to read Director’s cover story: “AI: the end of leadership as we know it?”

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