It’s the responsibility of government, business, consumers and academics to work together to ensure artificial intelligence and automation are developed with ethics and diversity – that’s according to an influential group of cloud and automation experts.

Automation has the potential to bring £630bn to the UK economy, offering real opportunities for social development. However, there remains significant concern from pressure groups and the technology industry over both the changing role of humans in the workforce and the lack of cultural diversity among those developing AI technologies.

The thinktank Future Advocacy claims that at least one-fifth of jobs in the UK are at ‘high risk’ of being automated.

Sue Daley, head of cloud and automation at techUK says it’s vital not to frame the debate as people vs robots, but to ask how the two can work together in unison to create greater efficiency.

She said: “How can we make sure these systems are relatable for humans? Accountability is key to building that trust and confidence. We need to have a balanced, constructive debate and it’s everyone’s responsibility to get involved.

“We need to realise that the nature of many jobs is changing due to automation and AI, so it’s critical that we’re discussing the opportunities they bring as well as looking at the risks. Change brings disruption and concern, and many organisations are going through a culture change due to developing technology.

“It’s vital to have a balanced discussion on the impact of AI on the workforce; freeing up the IT department of labour-intensive tasks to do more creative, value-added roles should be seen as a positive, but we need to prepare for it together.”

Lawrence Jones, CEO of cloud technology firm UKFast agrees that it’s a shared responsibility and urges business leaders to step up to start the right conversations.

He said: “What machines can never do is bring this human element, so it’s vital for technology to work alongside humans to deliver greater efficiency and ultimately it’s up to business leaders to instil that.

“We also have a responsibility to ensure AI works for people from every background and culture, and that fairness and equality is built into the very foundations of machine learning systems to avoid bias. If the people building these systems are exclusively white, male and from western backgrounds then there’s a problem.”

Rachel Furla, project manager and digital coach at cloud and automation agency Organise Choas believes the fear of automation and AI needs to be quashed.

She said: “We are over-occupied and we work more hours than many other countries. We’re not talking about losing jobs, we’re talking about a larger sector of the population working four days a week and letting the machines do the rest of the busy work. That’s a real positive element of the digital ethics debate.

“We have an inherent fear of change, so the key is education and understanding. When we think of automation people’s minds go to fear and disruption, they don’t see that how automation and machine learning is used in their everyday lives already.”

The comments were made at a panel discussion on cloud and automation at UKFast Campus in Manchester.

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