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Bridging the AI Skills Gap

by Laura Robertson | 2 mins read

Last week, UK chancellor Jeremy Hunt made several important announcements designed to give a much-needed boost to the technology sector.

Against a backdrop of under investment, inflationary pressures and the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, Hunt delivered a trio of eye-catching tech initiatives. First there was the Manchester prize, (named in honour of Manchester University’s development of the world’s first computer to run a programme stored in its memory) which will award a prize of £1 million each year for AI research.

Then there was £2.5 billion investment in quantum technologies, which Hunt claimed would set up the UK’s vision to the be the ‘world’s leading quantum enabled economy by 2033’. “The power that AI’s complex algorithms need can be provided by quantum computing,” Mr Hunt told the Commons.

Finally, the Chancellor announced 12 new investment zones focused on a series of key sectors, including technology, life sciences and the green sector. Plus, potential innovation clusters in Glasgow, Greater Manchester and the West Midlands with £100million of investment in 26 “transformative” research and development projects. Mr Hunt has previously said he wants the UK to become "the next Silicon Valley", the home to the world's biggest tech companies.

All well and good. No one can doubt that in order to achieve the much higher levels of growth which the UK has largely failed to achieve in recent years, investment in the tech sector is crucial. However, guaranteeing the UK’s future growth is much more than just investment in technology. It’s also about investment in its people, particularly its young people.


Positioning AI as an opportunity

In last week’s budget chancellor Hunt talked about the four pillars of his industrial strategy focusing on the four ‘Es’ – economy, enterprise, employment and education. Of these, education is perhaps the most important if we are to position the UK at the forefront of the next industrial revolution, dubbed Industry 4.0.

Yet all too often it seems the discussion, even within the education system, is that technologies such as AI only pose a threat to the future workforce. In a recent panel discussion at the Data Centre World conference, entitled Leveraging science, education and AI to ensure a next generation of high-flying technologists, Jim Khalili, Professor of Physics at the University of Surrey spoke about automation, RPA and AI all in very negative terms - about the fear many people have of the ‘bots taking over’.

And while undoubtedly there will be some job losses as a result of this shift towards AI, there will also be many new opportunities, especially for those just starting out in their careers, many commentators agree. For example, a recent article on ZD Net says that businesses are struggling to find the necessary skills to deploy the AI and automation needed to become more competitive and to create a more productive workforce.

The latest survey of 1,420 IT leaders by Rackspace Technology bears this out. The main barrier, respondents state, is the need for more AI and machine learning capability and the talent required to manage data effectively. The issue or obstacle most often faced is a shortage of skilled talent, cited by 67%, followed by algorithm or model failure (61%) and the cost of implementation (57%).

“AI and machine learning is smart, but it isn't ready to implement itself," the survey report's authors point out. "It's difficult to find skilled people who can work with the technology and the data to optimize outcomes."


Curiosity is key

Nor are technical skills the only ones that will be required by the future workforce, claims ex-Twitter VP and workplace culture enthusiast Bruce Daisley in his latest Eat, Sleep, Work, Repeat podcast entitled Curiosity, Creativity and AI.

In the podcast Professor Costas Andriopoulos, Professor of Management and Associate Dean for Entrepreneurship at Bayes Business School, City of London University, talks about how curiosity is the ‘engine of creativity’. Those who strive to be curious about new ideas and technologies, such as AI, often have higher levels of job satisfaction and high levels of performance, he claims.

Far from being afraid of AI, we should learn to embrace it. Just as our ancestors embraced technologies such as the Spinning Jenny which revolutionized textile manufacturing in the 19th Century. The ‘bots are here – and there’s really nothing to be scared of!

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