In her speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, Theresa May focused on the Government’s plan to develop a Modern Industrial Strategy to best harness the huge potential of the technological advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI) whilst addressing the profound concerns about any negative consequences.
Modern industrial strategy
The Prime Minister acknowledged the significant benefits which advances in AI have already brought to the world, from drones saving the lives of drowning boys to machine learning reducing unnecessary cancer surgery.
However, she also acknowledged the new and profound challenges which need to be addressed, not only with regard to crucial health and safety issues but also, in particular, with regard to the world of work.
She commented that many fear that because of the advancement of AI, they and their children will be out of work in the future. So, with a view to “channeling the power of government and business in partnership to seize the opportunities of technology and create high-quality, well-paid jobs right across the world”, the Government has put the development of a Modern Industrial Strategy at the heart of its agenda.
And that strategy will involve equipping people, and therefore businesses, with the skills they need to be successful in the future world of work, through a technical education system which will include a National Retraining Scheme to help people learn throughout their career, and the establishment of an Institute of Coding - a consortium of more than 60 universities, businesses and industry experts to support training and retraining in digital skills.
Technological change in the workplace and employment law
The Prime Minister also acknowledged the many changes which the development of AI has already brought to the workplace, and stated that it is necessary to ensure that employment law keeps pace with the way that technology is shaping modern working practices and “to establish and enforce the standards and protections that can make this technology work for customers and employees alike”. This means that employment law needs to preserve vital rights and protections as well as the flexibilities that businesses and workers value.
As part and parcel of this, the Government promises to deliver on the Matthew Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices conducted last year, from exploring the case for reforms to make employment status tests clearer, to identifying a set of metrics against which to measure job quality.
In addition, the Government’s overall strategy for AI will include establishing the rules and standards that can make the most of AI in a responsible way, such as by ensuring that algorithms don’t perpetuate the human biases of their human developers, something which is of particular importance in the use of AI in the recruitment process.