Artificial intelligence (AI) has been around for a long time as a concept, but there has now been a major surge in the technology’s development, which is likely to see automation continue to escalate and accelerate.
The machines being built are so much more powerful than ever before in terms of processing power and storage ability, and because of the huge amount of data available, the capacity to build intelligent systems that can learn and “think” for themselves has vastly improved, although it is still an open question as to whether they will ever be able to outperform the human brain.
As a result, there has been a huge surge in automation in every walk of life. This places even greater importance on the recent UK government review of AI, which I cochaired alongside BenevolentTech chief executive Jerome Pesenti.
However, we need to act to realize the full potential of AI and achieve the positive benefits it can deliver.
Through our review, we made 18 specific recommendations, including a number that focus on ways in which universities, research institutes, industry and government can come together to better prepare for the AI landscape of the future.
Universities are on the front line in preparing the nation’s future workforce, but they are also key to the future of research, development and commercialization of AI to benefit the economy and society as a whole.
We emphasized the importance of skills and the need to increase the UK’s expertise through industry-funded master’s programs in AI and master’s-level conversion courses with funding and other forms of support directly from industry.
AI is where the new big salary jobs will be, but the demand from industry for new talent is already outstripping supply, so additional courses and places for generating new talent in the UK need to keep being added while improving the responsiveness of the skills training system to demand.
At the same time, the gap between industry and academia must be reduced to attract the best talent from around the world to the UK, and create more opportunities for women and other underrepresented groups.
We also made recommendations to increase AI uptake to help organizations and workers understand how AI can boost their productivity and make better products and services, including public services.
Data sharing and access is another key area we concentrated on so people and organizations can be confident that use of data for AI is safe, secure and fair, and to make more data available from publicly funded research.
We also want to build on the UK’s strong record in cutting-edge AI research with targeted proposals, including making the Alan Turing Institute a national institute for AI.
Ever since computers were invented, people have talked about how they can help people learn — that is what got me into computing in the first place.
I am fortunate to have lived and worked during one of the world’s most important technological revolutions, but I do not believe we have arrived at what will be the “steady state” of the future, if there will ever be one.
Now is the time for everyone — scientists, researchers, entrepreneurs and the government — to come together to address how AI is going to affect society and to seek ways to ensure that people are able to deliver the great breakthroughs the technology has the potential to deliver for the benefit of society.
Dame Wendy Hall is regius professor of computer science and director of the Web Sciences Institute at the University of Southampton, and one of the world’s most influential women in IT. She is on a three-day visit in Taiwan until tomorrow for the UK-Taiwan Web & Data Science Workshop.
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