This is not a tale of doom. Like every other technological change it will bring big economic benefits (PWC estimate it might add 26% to GDP by 2030); some people will win and some will lose. The job of government is to steward this change through and make sure that the UK realises the undoubted economic benefits while minimising the social ills. We should not replicate the response to automation in the 1980s where a more laissez-faire approach has left pools of unemployment as old jobs disappeared and people didn’t adapt into new roles.
To hone in one sector, one of the most exciting fields at the moment is in the clinical setting. AI is getting very good at two things which have traditionally relied on medical training:
Working out what the problem might be and proposing a course of action – Google Deepmind are just one company creating tools that support doctors by mining the patient’s full history and comparing them to lots of others who had similar symptoms;
Anomaly detection and image recognition – Many diagnostic tests take an image or sample of the body and rely on specialists like histopathologists or radiographers to identify problems e.g. cancerous cells. Companies like path.ai are now reaching near clinical levels of accuracy for cancer detection.
But the key thing with medicine is that you are dealing with people. When you speak with clinicians they often flag how little time they are able to spend with each patient (particularly in primary care). This is an area where people still have AI licked. We can reinvest the time freed up above to provide deeper, holistic, care for each patient. While clinicians are excited by the potential for AI to be used as a diagnostic tool, at least 35% of patients would refuse to integrate at least one existing or soon-to-be available intervention.
This highlights the challenge we face as a country – to develop and adopt useful AI tools; tools that get rolled out to improve services; and ones that respect people’s boundaries.
The UK is well placed to be the country of choice for the development of ethical AI. With skill and ambition the UK as a whole can be a one of the big winners from this change. We have leading Universities like Oxford and Southampton attracting the best domestic and international minds, vibrant startup scenes in Manchester, Leeds, Bristol and of course London. We have a strong industrial base to work with.For example, when we looked at countries around the world the UK ranked #2 in the world (after Singapore) at how easy it would be to deploy AI in the public sector.