As with the potential of the uses for AI, the conversation around the topic seems almost endless. From computing to jobs to culture, the introduction of AI has the power to completely radicalise everything; the only question is how?
But, with all the uncertainty, there is one thing that is for sure – countries around the world will all be vying for the title of “AI superpower”.
So, in this upcoming race to dominate the AI space, where does the UK stand?
One thing the conversation on AI is not lacking is talk about its unlimited potential, especially in cybersecurity. This decade has seen an unprecedented surge in cybercrime. In fact, according to the latest estimates, by 2028, the cost of cybercrime worldwide will reach 13.82 trillion U.S. dollars. In times like these, security teams need every advantage they can get.
Now more than ever, organisations need better defences and recovery methods against threat actors. “AI and machine learning have the potential to radically improve business continuity,” states Kevin Cole, Director, Technical Marketing and Training, Zerto, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company. “One of the greatest challenges we face in the world of cyber is staying one step ahead of the attackers. By absorbing huge amounts of data, AI can provide more accurate predictions for attacks and more effectively identify weak points in an organisation’s security”.
However, despite the benefits AI offers to security, the advancement poses huge security challenges. Should the UK become an AI superpower, it must first combat the grave security concerns that arise with AI. Laurie Mercer, Security Architect at HackerOne, explains, “today, most AI models are open source or trained on public information. The next wave of AI models will need to be trained on private or proprietary information. This raises interesting security concerns. For example, how can these models be protected against data breaches, unauthorised access, and cyber attacks? Imagine a model trained on cancer records to help spot early signs of illness in the population. You could abuse such a system to find out who on your road has cancer. Pre-AI, this already happened in Singapore, where ⅓ of all patient records were exposed in a sophisticated attack on the Ministry of Health. A new way of securing AI models is clearly needed”.
The UK’s advantages
For a country to become an AI superpower, it needs resources and infrastructure. Geoff Barlow, Technology Practice Lead – Strategy at Node4, argues that the UK already has these necessities, giving it a headstart on others: “The UK is undoubtedly a global technology leader, with our tech industry being the third in the world to hit the value of $1 trillion, behind only the US and China. We have always been early adopters of the latest technologies and innovation, and are home to many exciting technology companies – Deep Mind, Deliveroo, Monzo, to name just a few – as well as being a huge partner country for Microsoft. The UK is home to a third of Europe’s AI companies, and now that OpenAI has chosen London as the location for its first international office, the UK is further cemented as a hub for innovation”.
A solid background in technology will undoubtedly help the UK. However, many countries also have this. To truly dominate the AI space, the UK will need a unique advantage that no other country can match. And Matt Rider, VP of Sales Engineering at Exabeam, argues we already have this: our history as leaders in ethical regulation and, interestingly, the NHS. He explains, “one national strength that will enhance our claim as a world leader in AI, is to lead the drafting and acceptance of globally recognised, regulatory boundaries and the drafting of robust ethical controls to ensure the technology is used appropriately. Similarly, with the NHS’s database, the UK holds the biggest PII and healthcare data set in the world, giving us a unique selling point and something that could hugely benefit the world if used in the right way”.
The right tools for the job
However, despite all these pre-existing advantages, many challenges are on the horizon. One significant one is skills.
As with many parts of the world, the UK has been battling an ongoing skills shortage for years. One of the primary industries affected by this is the technology sector. Microsoft recently revealed that 69 per cent of leaders feel their organisation suffers from a digital skills gap.
Agata Nowakowska, AVP EMEA, Skillsoft, claims, “with technology rapidly advancing, it’s mission-critical that organisations think strategically about how to upskill workers so that they can use AI tools ethically and productively. However, glaring gaps in the UK’s digital literacy have been exposed. The House of Lords’ latest Digital Exclusion report emphasises the pressing need for immediate action to help build people’s confidence around the digital skills needed to be independent, foster development and gain employment in today’s ever-evolving digital era”.
However, many argue the opposite. Hugh Scantlebury, CEO and Founder of Aqilla, states, “the AI skills definitely exist within the country to allow it to become a global leader in the field. Cambridge is set to become the Silicon Valley of Europe, so what better country is there to lead the way with AI? Global technical businesses with headquarters in the UK, like BT, Arm, British Aerospace, and Vodafone, can also play a huge part in pushing the country forward. Active encouragement and financial assistance for academic institutions can accelerate investment in research and design, which will be crucial for becoming an AI superpower”.
In the same vein, Plamen Minev, Technical Director, AI & Cloud, Quantum, argues that the advancement of AImeans we will need less advanced skills. He explains, “we are currently undergoing a global AI democratisation process, making access to the technology easier than ever before as accessibility no longer requires advanced technical skills. Organisations are already incorporating this transformative technology or are researching ways to integrate AI services within their tools. AI-powered analytics can help develop a searchable content library by tagging, enriching, and transcribing data as it is collected, enabling organisations to derive value and find actionable insights to gain a competitive edge”.
It won’t be easy
Another key concern as we continue down the AI route is compliance. Many are understandably concerned that such a new technology will advance too quickly for laws and regulations to keep up with.
“First and foremost, risk management and compliance functions are in the very earliest stages of AI integration, which means the current lack of understanding will almost certainly lead to teething problems and mistakes”, details Craig Adams, Managing Director, EMEA at Protecht. “Indeed, in many organisations, risk professionals find themselves working round the clock to understand how best to retrospectively integrate AI into long-established, well-run programmes and processes.
“Furthermore, AI is far from flawless in its current iteration. For all the positive headlines generated, ChatGPT has also garnered numerous negative ones as well, particularly relating to high profile gaffs, biased content, and limited knowledge of the world beyond 2021 (at least for now)”.
Hubert Da Costa, Chief Revenue Officer at Celerway, also points out that there are logistical hurdles to overcome: “One of the key challenges in rolling out AI technology across many industries that operate outside of a fixed location, for example those relying on field workers and technicians, is providing powerful, reliable and secure mobile connectivity to powerful edge devices. Most people think of mobile connectivity as a backup – with 5G, mobile connectivity has finally become a primary connectivity option.
“For the AI revolution to deliver on its promise, innovation is needed around what is known as Intelligent Connectivity; the combination of high speed 5G networks, AI and IoT edge devices that enable new powerful computing capabilities at the edge of the network. The STEP programme has put a clear objective in place for investment in key technologies – what we need to see now is investment in delivering this at the edge, free from the constraints of centralised data centres that will allow industries such as transport, public services healthcare and many more to increase efficiency, productivity, security, and scalability”.
2023 and beyond…
Overall, there is a lot of reason to believe the UK could be one of the key players in the future of AI. We not only have a strong technological background, but we also have unique advantages, such as the NHS database and a history of leading the charge regarding ethical regulation.
However, as with any new technology, there is every reason to proceed cautiously. Historically, new technological advancements have not only offered us countless opportunities but also caused notable damage.
The invention of the commercial refrigerator radicalised the way we purchased, prepared, and stored food, but it had catastrophic consequences for the ozone layer. Sir Marcus Laurence Elwin Oliphant’s discovery of nuclear fission not only changed the way we understand the structure of the atom’s nucleus, but also resulted in the invention of the hydrogen bomb. In short, technology is what we make of it. By all accounts, AI has unlimited potential, only stiffened by human creativity, but in this same breath, it has the ability to cause much harm.
If the UK wants to become an AI superpower, for which it is well positioned, the country will need to address issues such as skills deficits, regulation, and compliance first. But, if done right, the possibilities are endless.