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Autonomous Intelligence – The Future of AI

Rob McCargow, AI Programme Leader from PwC, gave a talk to our MBA students about the importance of being aware of the future implications of AI on business, society and regulation.

Rob is a Newcastle University Alumnus, and has experience working in various sectors and for differing organisations, from NGOs working on the Ebola outbreak to being an Executive Coach. He now works for PwC, looking at AI from a holistic point of view, not just considering the technology behind it.

When it comes to AI, there seems to be two differing viewpoints. Mark Zuckerberg suggests a utopian future, with AI integrating with Human life, but Elon Musk argues that AI is dangerous and could lead to dystopia. Robs talk highlighted both the advantages and risks when it comes to the implementation of AI, suggesting a more balanced approach than that adopted by Zuckerberg or Musk.

AI is defined as “The theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence”. It is a broad term, used to cover things such as machine vision,  deep learning and speech recognition. Currently the levels of AI that exist today can be considered “Artificial Narrow Intelligence” – its primary function being to assist humans (Siri on a mobile phone, Netflix being able to ‘guess’ what you would like to watch’). Rob spoke about how we are moving towards an era of “Autonomous Intelligence”, however, with AI being to make decisions for itself as will be the case with driverless cars.

Rob discussed important things for businesses to consider, when implementing AI and operating in an environment where it is common place. PwC project that AI will contribute to $15.7 trillion to the world GDP by 2030. In the UK the amount AI could contribute is around £230 billion. Thus, AI is a force that cannot be ignored, by Governments or organisations covering many sectors such as healthcare and transport.

The use of AI could see up to 30% of jobs being automated (10 million in the UK) by 2030, and Rob argues that the potential boost to the economy should be used to retrain and support individuals whose livelihoods are affected by automation. AI wouldn’t just affect new people to the job market, but also individuals who are mid-career.

There are five messages to businesses that Rob felt were the most important, these were:

  • Act now
  • Own the automation debate
  • No regrets and no bets
  • Focus on people and not jobs
  • Make a bigger leap, and
  • Finally build a clear narrative

Rob argued that companies should be open and transparent with employees, offering to reskill those who may be at risk of losing their jobs. A lack of transparency could be holding AI back, along with the perceived disruption to society. Governments need to ensure there are adequate controls and rules in place to monitor the implementation and use of AI.

Rob summarised by talking about how important it is for people and businesses to have a holistic approach to AI, and that individuals should try and grasp AI now, at the start of their careers.

This session was extremely insightful for our MBA students, with Rob encouraging them to consider how quickly the change may come, and how trust and transparency can be built into AI platforms. The session ended with an engaging Q&A session, with the students being able to have an open discussion with Rob about the prospects for the future workforce and data protection rights.

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