Artificial Intelligence – panacea or pipe dream?


By jbayley

In a wide-ranging panel discussion curated by Leyton UK, leading experts have set out their views on the “brave new world” of AI and machine learning, as global economies look to drive innovation beyond the Covid-19 pandemic. With SEC Newgate’s Charles Ansdell moderating the session, William Garvey, Managing Director and Radeep Mathew, Head of Consulting at Leyton were joined by Richard Develyn, Chief Technical Officer at Cloud Trade.

According to the panellists, many businesses still lack a solid understanding of how AI and machine learning can be applied most effectively, potentially wasting time and money integrating AI in the wrong areas while missing out on valuable innovation. According to William Garvey, many businesses still just regard AI as a “buzzword”. At the same time, question marks around governance need to be addressed for data from AI to be implemented and understood more effectively. Radeep Mathew highlighted the role of data as “the new currency” of innovation – emphasising the importance of building it into business plans effectively.

The panellists all agreed that innovation driven by AI has the power to transform society, potentially realigning whole sectors of the economy. One area of discussion was the potential impact on jobs, with Radeep Mathew suggesting that job losses would be confined to certain segments of the economy, contributing to a “realignment” over the long term. Meanwhile, Richard Develyn agreed, predicting that over the long term, AI was likely to play an “advisory” role, “de-skilling” rather than replacing human jobs.

The ethics of some applications for AI have been called into question in recent years, and the panel discussed how the regulatory landscape could address these concerns. Radeep Mathew suggested that these areas would only become bigger problems without greater ethics-related governance on issues like facial recognition and data mining.

The panellists discussed the broader innovation landscape in the UK and what this means for the AI space. William Garvey highlighted the relative lack of support for larger companies in the UK compared to other European countries, but said that he expected policymakers from across the political spectrum to “bang the drum” on the issue of innovation as the UK begins to look beyond Covid-19. He highlighted policies that hold back SMEs that receive funding from venture capital, while Richard Develyn pointed out that financial support for R&D – such as through the R&D tax credits scheme – was crucial to enable innovation and risk-taking.

Access to talent is a crucial factor to enable the development of AI, and William Garvey highlighted “question marks” in the higher education sector, with universities in the UK and Asia taking steps to champion innovation in the space. There remain shortages of AI talent in the UK, and Richard Develyn said that those with AI skills were looking for exciting, challenging companies to work for, creating an incentive for businesses to embrace innovation to attract the best global candidates.