FinTechs counter BoE chief’s AI warning

FinTechs have hit back at the chief economist of the Bank of England’s warning that the UK will need a skills revolution to avoid “large swathes” of people becoming “technologically unemployed” due to artificial intelligence (AI) making many jobs obsolete.

Andy Haldane said that job losses would be compensated for by the creation of new jobs as a “new technological wave” broke over society, but noted that lessons must be learned from previous shifts in industrial technology.

“What we can I think say with some confidence, is that given that the scale of job loss displacement it is likely to be at least as large as that of the first three industrial revolutions,” he stated. “We will need even greater numbers of new jobs to be created in the future, if we are not to suffer this longer-term feature called technological unemployment.”

Haldane said that jobs that focused on human interaction, face-to-face conversation and negotiation would be likely to flourish, while more manual and less creative roles will be the first to be automated.

Sharon Einstein, vice president from robotic automation and AI at NICE, responded that it is often too easy to focus on the threat to human jobs when it comes to AI, arguing that rather than being a threat, AI in fact enhances the experience and positions people for greater influence in the workplace.

“With the average employee spending an average of 80 per cent of their day on mundane, routine work that don’t necessarily need human input, a significant amount of potential often goes unrealised,” she stated. “By integrating AI into daily routines, employees are free from monotonous tasks to undertake more exciting and rewarding tasks that add real value – for many companies, this means improved employee satisfaction, with employees feeling that their time is better valued.”

John Gikopoulos, global head of AI and automation at Infosys Consulting, suggested jobs are becoming less ‘functionary’ and more ‘visionary’, pointing out that humans will be needed to guide the robots, match capabilities to business strategy and provide the vision for the future.

“Many organisations are already delegating repetitive tasks to machines, while introducing new roles for humans that focus on creativity and communication,” he explained. “The next step is using AI as an opportunity for humans to move up the value chain and be rid of mundane jobs altogether.”

Gikopoulos said that to combat the threat posed by automation, business leaders need to do more. “It’s not enough just to understand the different technologies on the table; they should also understand what tech can do for their business, their customers, and crucially, their employees – that requires a shift in culture as much as it does the acquisition of new skills.”

In April this year, the government announced it was collaborating with more than 50 businesses and organisations to develop a £1 billion deal to put the UK at the forefront of the AI industry.

In the same month, the House of Lords Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence published a report stating that the UK has a unique opportunity to shape AI positively for the public’s benefit. However, it also noted that AI will undoubtedly change the employment landscape, with many jobs disappearing at the same time others are created.

Significant investment in skills and training will be necessary to mitigate the negative effects, according to the report, while the monopolisation of data by big technology firms must be avoided. To negate this, the government plans to work with the Competitions and Markets Authority to review the use of data by large technology firms operating in the UK.

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