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The UK is lagging behind in its AI take-up, according to a parliamentary select committee.
© iStock
© iStock

04 November 2019 |  Herpreet Kaur Grewal

Artificial intelligence automation is becoming a reality and now a parliamentary select committee has warned that unless the government steps up efforts to manage the transition to automation, entire regions of the UK face being left behind and British businesses could become uncompetitive.

The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee’s Automation and the Future of Work report finds that the UK’s slow pace in moving to automation – the UK lags behind its G7 competitors in its adoption of robots – has allowed other nations to “steal a march in leading the Fourth Industrial Revolution and seizing upon the opportunities for economic growth and jobs”.

To ramp up the leadership and coordination needed to enable the UK to capitalise on these technologies, the report urges the government to come forward with a UK robot and AI strategy by the end of 2020. 

It finds against a ‘robot tax’, believing that such a tax would discourage take-up of automation and that it would not be in the interests of businesses or workers in the UK. 

The report advises the government to bring forward proposals in the next Budget for a tax incentive to encourage investment in automation and robotics. The lack of awareness and understanding of automation is harming business productivity – again, especially at SMEs, adds the report, which is critical of the government’s decision to close the Manufacturing Advice Service in 2015, describing it as “a mistake” that “has contributed to making it more difficult for businesses to find help and advice”. 

Robots in the workplace

The report calls on government to devise plans for a fully funded nationwide information service based on the ‘Made Smarter’ North-West pilot. It further acknowledges the narrowing of the school curriculum in recent years, notes the demand for STEM subjects, and outlines the need for flexible and relevant school and university curriculums. Also included are calls for large-scale expansion of lifelong learning and reskilling, which the report states are essential to ensure that opportunities “don’t just fall to those with the ‘right’ degrees and skill sets”. Measures to enable the UK to increase the female workforce in the tech sector, currently only 17 per cent, are also vital.

Rachel Reeves, chair of the BEIS Committee, said: “The switch to automation brings challenges for businesses and for workers, with fears for livelihoods or disruption to job roles coming to the fore. The real danger for the UK economy and for future jobs growth is, however, not that we have too many robots in the workplace but that we have too few.

“The fact is we are lagging behind our international competitors in our adoption of robot and automation technologies. Productivity, economic growth, job creation and higher earnings, will flow to countries that capitalise on these technologies.”

AI on the global stage

A report released at the ‘Microsoft Decoded’ event in October reaches similar conclusions, contending that the UK has to accelerate its use of AI technology.Organisations using AI now outperform those that do not, it says – “a boost that, in the face of unprecedented economic and political uncertainty, UK businesses can ill-afford to pass up”.

The report, conducted in partnership with Goldsmiths, University of London, puts in doubt the UK’s ability to compete with countries such as the US and China, which are implementing AI at pace, on a greater scale.

The study, conducted by YouGov, focuses on 1,000 business leaders and 4,000 staff, with experts from M&S, NatWest, Renault F1 Team, Lloyds Banking Group and the NHS.  

IWFM announces Microsoft collaboration

The IWFM has begun a research and development collaboration with Microsoft to explore a shared vision for the role of technology in high-performance workplaces. 

A programme on the theme of connected and smart workplaces will see the two organisations collaborate on research that could influence workplace performance.

Exploring the theme of workplace transformation in the technological age, the partners will jointly introduce research intended to equip workplace and business leaders with tools to transform their organisations into connected high performers.

The programme will generate insights to help individuals and organisations understand and navigate the technology and experience matters that can combine to create people-centred workplaces capable of driving better outcomes. It will run for an initial 12-month period with IWFM developing partnerships with other organisations to deliver insight and perspective from across the industry.

The Microsoft / IWFM collaboration will be launched during Workplace Week on 14 November. Continuing research, insights and guidance content will be shared throughout 2020.

Deployment of automation in UK businesses

24% Fewer than a quarter of UK organisations have an AI strategy in place

74% UK business leaders who doubt the nation has the socio-economic structures in place to lead in AI on the global stage 

11.5% Percentage by which organisations using AI are outperforming their competitors 

Source: Microsoft report

Emma Potter