UK businesses struggle to keep up with AI

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A new report by Microsoft, published last week, indicates that artificial intelligence (AI) is changing business models so quickly that UK companies are struggling to keep up.

The tech giant surveyed 5,000 plus British business leaders and employees discovered that 41% of British companies surveyed said their business models might cease to exist in the next five years thanks to AI. Or perhaps ‘thanks’ is the wrong word; what they really mean is ‘due to’.

The report also revealed that 51% of the country’s business leaders do not have an AI strategy in place for their organizations, which is a significant proportion. This news comes at a time when British businesses are concerned about the outcome of the Brexit negotiations and could face tough, new challenges in a range of industry sectors.

As Clare Barclay, Microsoft U.K.’s chief operating officer, told CNBC, “Like any change, sometimes it’s easier to do nothing than to do something.”

On the other side of the factory floor, so to speak, employees have their own worries about the use of AI. Microsoft found that 45% of employees are concerned their job could be taken by AI, yet 51% are not being taught the skills to help prepare for changes in the workforce. Of course, this makes sense: if management is unengaged with AI, how can one expect employees to embrace it.

Barclay highlighted the problem as her company sees it, pointing out that AI is more of an opportunity than threat, and suggested UK businesses needed to “focus on this AI to make businesses stronger and, in our opinion, not leaner.”

Indeed the survey results show the benefit of AI. Companies already using AI technology outperformed other businesses in areas like productivity, performance and business outcomes. Moreover, companies that develop strategies around the ethics of AI are even more productive.

Microsoft is making big investments in AI and it also believes that companies like it can take the lead in helping others adopt the technology and develop “safe and ethical AI platforms, for example by ensuring that human bias isn’t built into algorithms.”

What is very clear is that UK businesses need to speed up their pace of adoption of AI and ensure they are equipped to face the future with a stronger technology foundation.

 

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