If we trust AI we can unleash its potential to help us build back digital


Kulveer Ranger is SVP, Head of Strategy, Marketing, Comms & Public Affairs, Northern Europe & APAC at Atos

Digital Infrastructure Minister, Matt Warman, made two excellent points at the outset of our fringe event in partnership with Onward at Conservative Party Conference. The first was that done properly, AI can be a ‘force for good’ throughout our economy and society. The second, no less valid point, is that we all have a ‘big job of work’ to do on trust if we are to realise this. Make no mistake, the economic dividend if we get this right is sizeable. A PWC study has shown that UK GDP will be up to 10.3% higher in 2030 as a result of AI – the equivalent of an additional £232bn. It shows there will be significant gains across all UK regions, with England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all seeing an impact from AI in 2030 at least as large as 5% of GDP, and extra spending power per household of up to £1,800-£2,300 a year by 2030. AI could be the Government’s secret weapon in its ambition to level up our country.

Atos’s role in the national debate

At Atos, we are at the heart of applying this powerful technology. Through our AI Labs in partnership with Google Cloud we see its transformative ability every day. And as a leading practitioner, we also bear a responsibility in playing a full part in the ‘national debate’ the Minister cited as essential in furthering public understanding and trust in AI. Let’s be clear, getting AI to a position where it is able to unlock the sums cited above is going to involve embarking on a journey which we take people fully onboard with, ironing out myths and improving our collective knowledge so we arrive at a point where use and application of AI is taken as read.

Learning lessons from Oyster

It’s the kind of tech journey I have some personal experience of. Back in the early 2000s I was working with Transport for London on a system of paying for travel in the capital that would revolutionise the way Londoners led their daily lives. Only, at the start of our project the revolution seemed some way off. The design of the Oyster card was a relatively fast process, the technology existed and the system, in different guises, already operated internationally. But the implementation of Oyster was more akin to an old world peak-time Circle line train than HS2. There was good reason for the lack of pace however. Londoners needed to be convinced of the benefits switching to Oyster could bring. They were used to ticket offices and cash being exchanged. We had to invest in the right public information strategies to allay any fears. It took time for people to process and then become comfortable with what for many was quite a drastic change in the way they got from A to B using public transport.

AI is increasingly ‘the future’

In 2003, ‘a cashless society’ was still something people could perhaps imagine but never quite see coming to pass. Today of course, through the dramatic aftershock of Covid-19, we are on the very cusp of consigning cash to the bracket of the camera, VHS or cassette tape. And although fewer journeys are being made in London right now, it is card transactions that are the default for getting around the city, with ticket offices an increasingly rare sight.

There is clear read through from my experience with the Oyster card and the current place of AI in society. Through a 2020 lens, we just couldn’t conceive of having to pay for our tube travel with a paper ticket in pounds and pence. I’m convinced that by 2030 everyday use of AI, algorithms and all that is associated with it will be viewed the same way. Let’s face it, AI already plays such a huge part in our daily lives, from our personal assistants such as Alexa and Siri, to the range of music we listen to via Spotify and the dramatic leaps forward AI is making through healthcare such as Google Health’s pioneering work on cancer detection.

Let’s demonstrate the positive outcomes

But the reason the Minister correctly identifies the need for a national debate is that there is still a cautious public perception of AI. For instance, in a recent survey by the Chartered Institute for IT, just over half of UK adults said they have no faith in any organisation to use algorithms when making judgements about them. With so many negative news stories about algorithms flying around recently, this concern is understandable. And it’s why we so urgently need the national debate to begin. We’ll get this debate off the ground through the AI industry and government coming together, setting the facts out and demonstrating the positive outcomes that can be realised for people’s lives and their futures, giving them the confidence that further integration of AI into everyday activities is the right thing to do. This is how we will build the levels of transparency and trust necessary for a healthy AI ecosystem. If we achieve this, we can be on the right track to ensuring that AI is a crucial component in helping the economy to build back digitally in the response to Covid-19 so that talent and potential in every corner of the UK is fully unleashed.

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Kulveer Ranger is SVP, Head of Strategy, Marketing, Comms & Public Affairs, Northern Europe & APAC at Atos, a global leader in digital transformation with 105,000 employees in 73 countries.

He has been a leading figure in the development and communication of innovate, technology led services and has a unique track record of working in politics, the public and private sectors over the last twenty years. This includes having worked on the delivery of the London Oystercard, and four years working for the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, leading the transport and environment briefs and establishing the Digital London Office. His time at City Hall included preparing London for the 2012 Olympics, making the case for Crossrail, leading on ground breaking initiatives such as the cycle hire scheme and Tech City. He has sat on various boards including Transport for London, Bristol 2015 European Green Capital City and is currently on the board of techUK.

Kulveer is an international public speaker, a regular broadcaster for TV and radio and a passionate Tottenham Hotspur FC fan.

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