Chris Read: We are all revolutionaries now

AI is set to play a massive role in the fourth industrial revolution which is already underway, writes Chris Read

We are all revolutionaries now. We are participants and actors in the fourth industrial revolution (4IR).

This revolution is a global event, and its intensity is picking up as time goes on. The 4IR as a term was first coined by Klaus Schwab the founder of the World Economic Forum (WEF). You may recall, Schwab also expressed the Great Reset at the 2020 WEF meeting. The Great Reset articulates resilience, equitable and sustainable economies based on ESG metrics that can help direct future 4IR innovations.

The Great Reset is not a rallying call for QAnon and other assorted moon barking conspiracy theorists. It is a set of thoughts that enables politicians and commentators in western democracies to express economic strategy in a more compassionate and balanced way.

The 4IR itself is centered on using technology to automate many tasks. Its foundation is built on the ability of technology or smart machines to organise, analyse and diagnose industrial and process interactions without the need for human intervention. In our business at Dunstan Thomas, we see this expression as implementation of artificial intelligence (AI) solutions. These could take the form of chatbots to enhance the experience of customer engagement to robotic process automation (RPA) to automate use cases in pension policy administration processes.

Augment human skills

Far from being a threat to employment, my hope is that 4IR will bring with it AI tools to collaborate and augment human skills. Despite this optimistic view of the Great Reset world, some academic studies project that 35% of all jobs could be automated away by 2035 (according to the Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology). That is not too far away.

With this increased automation, will we see the repatriation of offshore outsourced engagements into automated in-house solutions? Will this, in turn intensify the movement of economic migrants to more affluent economies? If this is the case, the migration of people from rural to urban, and from poor to rich countries may continue to gather momentum. With climate change, I suspect the movement and displacement of people will be the existential issues of our time.

Three laws

Turning our attention to the 4IR and AI as a key component, we must implement solutions that are governed by a set of ethics or ‘robo ethics’ that defends the positive aspirations of the Great Reset. The Three Laws of Robotics or Asimov’s Laws (after science fiction author Isaac Asimov) are a good place to start.

The first law is that a robot must not injure a human or allow a human to come to any harm. The second law is that the robot must obey rules and orders given by a human, so long as it does not conflict with the first law. The third law is that the robot must protect itself, so long as this does not conflict with the first or second laws.

The UK now has an Office for Artificial Intelligence, part of both the Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Business , Energy and Industrial Strategy. An outcome of activity from these departments in support of robo ethics, has been the development of a framework for assessing ethics in AI. The framework ensures safe, sustainable and ethical use of AI technologies. The initiative for is a seven point framework:

  1. Test to avoid any unintended outcomes or consequences.
  2. Deliver fair services for all users and citizens.
  3. Be clear who is responsible.
  4. Handle data safely and protect citizens’ interests.
  5. Help users and citizens understand how it impacts them.
  6. Ensure that it is compliant with the law.
  7. Build something that is future proof.

Later this year, the government will publish a plan to make the UK a global centre for the development, commercialization and adoption of responsible AI. AI and data have been set as one of four Grand Challenges in the UK’s Industrial Strategy, with a mission to prevent, diagnose earlier and treat chronic diseases by 2030. Coupled with the ageing society, this mission should help ensure people can enjoy five more healthy, independent years of life by 2035.  So, AI has an integral role to play in the health and welfare of the country.

My view is that every company, regardless of business sector, needs to start thinking about an AI strategy and the future development of technology solutions for their business as they interact with customers and deliver RPA efficiencies for their business.

With the momentum of governments around the world, as well as corporate strategies from Microsoft’s ‘AI for Good’ and Google’s ‘AI for Social Good’, there will be plenty of support and guidance to help companies to layout a roadmap for embedding AI into their businesses so that they can become engaged actors in the 4IR.

Chris Read is group CEO of Dunstan Thomas