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To beat the techlash, insert humans into the AI equation – Latest City A.M. column from Seven Hills Co-founder Michael Hayman

The following article from Michael Hayman MBE originally appeared in City A.M.

Looking for a change to the corporate grind?

Fear not, in 2025 you’ll get one when the keyboard becomes obsolete and your voice takes over.

At least this was the prediction of a technologist I interviewed last week, who made the point that voice recognition is going to transform the way we communicate.

Indeed, think of this. Your keyboard could be well on the way to becoming a retro party piece for future generations to marvel at – in the same way that today’s hipsters rejoice as they dust off dad’s vinyl collection.

Yet, when technology gives, it has a habit of taking away. Time-consuming typing goes, but what else goes with it? Well, jobs will change – and radically.

This was all part of the contemplative air that settled on this year’s gathering at London Tech Week.

The headwinds of public scrutiny are hitting home, and it’s even got a portmanteau – so you know it’s serious. It’s called techlash, and fear of its landing abounds in the tech community. Don’t let the name fool you, it’s not a big night out in a Shoreditch boozer, but rather what many see as the impending rite of passage that the maturing sector must go through.

The friend or foe in this drama, depending on which side of the fence you are on, is artificial intelligence (AI). Done well, it could revolutionise how we learn, work, and are looked after. I was heartened to hear how Great Ormond Street is using AI to create medical chatbots that make children’s personal care more, well, personal.

No business will be left untouched: 85 per cent of all enterprises will be using AI by 2020, according to Microsoft UK’s chief Cindy Rose, and the speed of adoption is set to rapidly escalate as the technology moves from a consumer gimmick to the commercial mainstream.

There is opportunity here. Accenture estimates that it could add up to £654bn to the UK economy by 2035. Britain is already being eyed up as a potential world leader when it comes to AI – it’s why the government’s new £1bn new deal for AI is a landmark bet on future opportunities.

But it’s not without its detractors. Some of the big titans of tech are in the dock when it comes to public trust right now. Personal data, transparency, and what tech companies can do about the spread of misleading and illegal content on their platforms are all hot topics at the moment.

The answer is to ensure that people are front and centre as the technology evolves. Eliminating flaws and oversight requires teams of diverse cognitive ability and from a rich array of backgrounds if we want to hardwire out machine bias and discrimination.

“We want to see redeployment not unemployment,” culture secretary Matt Hancock said last week.

This call-out is an opportunity as well as an obligation, because many of us want to believe in the great transformations that tech can deliver.

Indeed, the younger you are, the more likely you are to have a positive view of technology. The World Economic Forum Global Shaper Survey is a testament to this. An overwhelming 86 per cent of millennial respondents believe that, although they expect technology to impact jobs, it will also create lots of new ones.

If this is the prevailing attitude among young adults, it will only gain prominence. By 2025, millennials will make up 75 per cent of the global workforce. What’s more, they’ll be driving the direction of investment as millennial global spending power overtakes Generation X by 2020.

All signs point in a digital direction. Digital advertising accounted for half of all spending on advertising in the UK for the first time in 2017. That same year, for the first time, the top five companies in the US valued by market cap were all technology firms.

But with the advance, heed the warnings. Ogilvy vice chairman Rory Sutherland was on the money last week when he raised the spectre of the “Valley Vice”. He was referring to the tendency of technologists to identify more and more ways to eradicate human beings from the economic equation.

Replace the hotel doorman with an automatic door and you’ve boosted your door-opening efficiency. However, you’ve also just lost a personality, a status symbol, and a helping hand to customers. Relationships, advice, and interaction – sacrificed in one fell swoop in the name of efficiency.

His point is that, rather than diminishing the human role, future AI must be about realising the potential of people. There’s a lot riding on this. If the technologists get it right, there’s plenty of evidence of the brilliant progress it can bring about – ditching your keyboard is just the start.

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