Microsoft's FarmBeats technology uses AI and IoT to help increase farm productivity

London Tech Week: ‘Future generations will judge how we develop AI today’

The artificial intelligence revolution will only be seen as a success if the “right conditions are in place” to maximise its benefits, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has told an event at London Tech Week.

During his speech at the AI Summit, Jeremy Wright MP said AI needs people with the right digital skills to ensure the technology has the right ethical foundation to guide its development.

Only then will future generations look back on the current period of digital transformation in a positive light, he said, in comments echoed by executives at Microsoft UK in speeches throughout London Tech Week – which counts Microsoft among its headline sponsors.

Share this article
Twitter logoFacebook logoLinkedin logo

“No technology is intrinsically good or harmful,” Wright said. “History will only show that the AI revolution is a successful one if we work hard to put the right conditions in place. That means access to digital skills so everyone can benefit and the ethical foundations to steer it in the right direction.

“Let’s renew our efforts to make sure we keep the flame burning brighter and to make sure this technology remains transformative, safe and open. Because if we get this right, AI can be the motor behind a healthier economy and a fairer economy.”

AI is already being used to help frontline staff in hospitals, police forces, retailers and those working in many other sectors. However, more investment in building skills is needed in order for the country to remain one of the leading tech nations in the world.

Jeremy Wright MP, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, speaks at the AI Summit in London

Jeremy Wright MP, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, speaks at the AI Summit in London

Wright pointed to the Government’s Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation and National Centre for Computing Education, as well as investments in the technology and education sectors to boost the number of people learning and using digital skills. At London Tech Week on Monday, Prime Minister Theresa May announced the Government will invest up to £13.5 million in new conversion courses to grow specialist AI and data skills.

Addressing the same audience at the AI Summit, Microsoft UK’s Director of Azure Business, Michael Wignall, echoed some key themes from the Secretary of State’s remarks. The company is one of the global leaders in developing AI systems such as image recognition and natural language processing. Microsoft also helps businesses, including Marks & Spencer and BP, adopt and use its technology via its Azure cloud platform, as well as running a number of initiatives that use AI to empower those working to solve humanitarian issues and create a more sustainable and accessible world. The company also oversees digital skills programmes to teach people how to get the most out of technology.

“The performance of AI has reached human parity in vision, speech and language tests, and it’s only going to get smarter in the future,” Wignall said. “What developers of AI should be asking themselves is not just ‘can we do this?’ but ‘should we do this?’ That’s why Microsoft has set six core principles to developing AI systems – security and privacy, fairness, reliability and safety, increased diversity, transparency and accountability. Business, academia and government need to work together to take the best of all of us and use that in the creation of new technology.”

At London Tech Week’s Leaders in Tech event on Tuesday, Microsoft UK Chief Operating Officer Clare Barclay also highlighted that those who write AI algorithms have “ethical choices to make” to ensure the technology is used for good.

Michael Wignall and Clare Barclay, from Microsoft, give talks during London Tech Week

Michael Wignall and Clare Barclay, from Microsoft, gave talks during London Tech Week

“AI will fundamentally change the world, our businesses and our lives,” she said. “Companies are looking at how they unlock the potential of this technology, and as a leading AI company, we need to lead by example and ensure this is the most inclusive industrial revolution. Bias that can disenfranchise parts of our society can’t be brought in to AI.

“The companies that will thrive will be those that put the latest technology in the hands of their staff, focus on skills and prepare their workforce for change. Those companies are seeing the opportunities in AI but that comes with a responsibility for ethics and skills.”

To help companies equip executives with those skills, Microsoft has launched an AI Business School. The free, online school is the first in the world to help business leaders learn about the technology behind AI, how to use it throughout their organisation, prepare their staff for its adoption and ensure it is used responsibly. Lectures and videos lasting up to 10 minutes, which can be accessed on-demand, will feature insights from senior Microsoft staff including Chief Financial Officer Amy Hood and Chief Marketing Officer Chris Capossela, as well as Peter Zemsky, INSEAD’s Eli Lilly Chaired Professor of Strategy and Innovation.

Meanwhile, a Microsoft AI Academy will run face-to-face and online training sessions for business and public sector leaders, IT professionals, developers and startups, while its AI digital skills programme aims to deliver 30,000 new digital apprentices, 30,000 public sector officials trained, 500,000 new cloud experts and 500,000 people upskilled with AI skills by 2020.

According to research published last year, the rapid changes in technology mean 41% of business leaders believe they will have to dramatically change the way they work within the next five years, but more than half (51%) do not have an AI strategy in place to address those challenges.