Published on in Innovation

Artificial intelligence (AI) is something we talk about all the time. The industry and the mainstream media are full of speculation about the impact – and ethics – of AI, and amongst all this noise it’s difficult to gain a clear picture of progress on implementing AI in real terms.

That’s why Fujitsu created the Fujitsu Artificial Intelligence Award category in this year’s National Business Awards; to uncover the ‘AI heroes’ who are really driving AI forward in their businesses.

I was thrilled to be chair judge for the Fujitsu sponsored Artificial Intelligence category at the National Business Awards this year. As someone who works in this area of technology for one of the world’s largest technology companies I couldn’t wait to meet with real businesses who have used AI in anger to solve their business challenges.

My experience as a judge for this new prestigious category taught me a lot. Working with the finalists gave me a deeper understanding of where the UK really is with AI innovations. In this post, I’d like to share my insights and learnings.

An insight into AI in the UK market

My experience as an AI program director, developing AI strategies for our customers, meant I had the opportunity to put my Fujitsu hat on and judge from a technological and business perspective. It was great to use that experience to take a look at what’s going on in the marketplace right now to assess the commercial viability of the technology.

But first, I’ll quickly explain what I mean by AI – because a lot of what we talk about as AI doesn’t fall into my definition.

Today when we talk about AI we really mean machine learning. In the past, our idea of AI was wider, but as technology evolves and improves it drifts out of the ‘artificial’ and becomes more ‘real’ and straightforwardly intelligent. You could almost say that once it really works, it’s not AI anymore.

I also think of AI in terms of how we approach business and customers. AI for me is characterized by a co-creation approach – we need the business line involved to design the solution. There may be viable intelligent products that save and make a lot of money that are fully developed, but these don’t fall under my working definition of AI.

The awards revealed a lot about AI (and I mean actual AI) in the UK market. We’re still finding our way through the early stages, working out how best to deploy AI to solve business problems such as resource allocation, budgets and people management, and of course to commercialise it.

The number of practical uses that AI is being put to currently is fairly limited. But it’s set to grow, especially as the UK government has set their sights on AI development, placing it at the heart of its industrial strategy.

Recognising the case for AI

The judges were given a packed agenda to get through. From over 50 entrants we narrowed the list down to 11 finalists, all of which were of an exceptional standard. We judged the finalists against a rigorous set of criteria.

We looked at:

  • Use of AI to solve a business challenge – did the solution help to open up a new market?
  • Innovation in the solution – how original was this application of AI?
  • Usability – was the solution suitable for day-to-day use in the business?
  • Cost-effectiveness – was there a demonstrable return on investment of the solution on the business’s bottom line?
  • Strong business growth opportunity – how did the AI solution allow you to grow your business? What new opportunities did it open up?
  • Dual-benefit – did the solution demonstrate a positive impact on the organisation as well as its customers/partners?
  • Ethical use – was the AI solution ethical and positive?

As a judging panel we were hugely impressed by the interest in this new category. Unsurprisingly something that came through in every entry was a high level of attention to data. Contestants were clearly well informed about the General Data Protection Regulation and its potential impact on data analysis.

Overall, the solutions submitted to the award stuck closely to existing business applications of AI. With market growth of AI expected to continue there is still room for contestants to push the envelope and reinvent uses of AI. The untapped potential is yet to be imagined, so an opportunity exists for businesses leaders to fully embrace the ways that we will use AI in the workplace.

AI as part of the bigger picture

The awards gave me confidence that the UK is in a strong position in terms of its global AI capability – and someone who shares this view is Tabitha Goldstaub, Co-founder of CognitionX and chair of the AI Council for the UK government.

“With 758 companies in London alone, the UK is a leading light in AI. London has an AI supplier base double that of Paris and Berlin combined. What’s more, the rate of new AI supplier formation in London is 42% per year, significantly faster than the global rate of 24%. Many of these firms are ensuring London AI is a force for good, by pointing this technology at areas that genuinely help society.”

Of course, AI doesn’t come without complications.

Ethics is one of the big questions surrounding AI at the moment, but the interesting thing most people forget is that AI has not introduced the ethical question for the first time.

We talked about the ethics of individual data collection when we first started working on data analytics. These kinds of questions actually pre-date the technology – in fact, it’s a problem as old as time.

At Fujitsu we aim to harness AI to add social value to our businesses and lives. There are huge opportunities for AI to empower workers by giving them more complex, interesting work to do, or even just more specifically human work to do with building relationships or creativity.

For example, a recent study found digital technologies including AI created a net total of 80,000 new jobs annually across a population similar to the UK.

And the important thing is that the UK isn’t ignoring the ethical questions surrounding AI. Quite the opposite, as Tabitha reports:

“A new framework for Data Ethics, published by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), gives the following principle pride of place: “start with clear user need and public benefit”.

With the formation of the new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation too, focussed on strengthening the way data and AI are used and regulated, I’m confident that the UK is well-placed to leverage this technology’s vast potential.”

This is something that I can echo myself. As long as we keep asking the ethical questions, we can make sure they get answered.

Many opportunities left to explore

AI is a complex and unprecedented technology; which means we can only speculate on the ways in which it will be deployed in ten years’ time.

My experience as a judge in the awards this year has made me optimistic that there is so much of this technology that remains untapped, but that we are making positive strides.

It’s impossible to know for sure whether we will manage to achieve all that’s possible with AI.

One thing is certain: for all of those who competed in this year’s AI awards, the future is bright.

And for those who compete next year: there’s even more potential to be unlocked. So what are you waiting for?

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