Pondering Progress over Pizza – Open Sauce Roundtable

Back in February, the Open Sauce team and sponsors Rubicon Recruitment, Steele Raymond Solicitors and PKF Francis Clark met with local business minds to ponder over the impact of Artificial Intelligence on ‘The Future’.

Triggered by Chris Thorpe’s discussion on how AI (Artificial Intelligence) & Robots will impact the world of work, the discussion focused on what other changes the age of AI could bring to our daily lives. The conversation explored potential advancements in AI, and acknowledged our own industry experiences involving emerging technology.

Matt Desmier, Wise Old Uncle: There was an article in today’s newspaper about the impact of AI on the legal services sector, which highlighted the possible introduction of robot lawyers. How do you see this affecting your industry, Lee? 

Lee Taylor, Steele Raymond Solicitors: Any effects won’t be immediate, and it’s hard to envisage AI replacing a human being completely. Some firms are already utilising AI to improve efficiency and reduce the cost of tasks such as research. What may take a junior level employee a few days to complete, could be completed in minutes through AI.

MD: Could AI eventually replace paralegals?

LT: Yes, it could endanger their role and responsibilities. But the introduction of AI could be a huge benefit, eliminating laborious tasks, freeing up workload and allowing humans to focus on the work that AI cannot emulate. 

Hatty Fawcett, Crowdfunding Accelerator: We’re working with a business who have developed an AI solution to support older people and carers. With the population ageing and the government cuts to funding care, the device harnesses artificial intelligence to help people stay in their home longer. The device recognises when a person has fallen over in the home and alerts the carer. This huge advancement is providing care patients with more independence and carers with more time.

Claire Crombie, Rarely Impossible: We [Rarely Impossible] work on a lot of projects which help to free up human time by eliminating the need to carry out boring and tedious tasks. It is important that everyone recognises that all jobs are at risk, even developers – one of Microsoft’s latest releases can learn to code! I believe the creative industry will be the last to be affected, as it’s potentially the hardest to emulate.

MD: I’ve heard about an AI bot that can write songs, one that’s writing a play… what next?

CC: I recently attended a hospital event which demonstrated a robot carrying out a cancer treatment. The ‘surgeon’ is a effectively a dome over the patient, controlling the tools and equipment. The problem with this is that medical students may learn to rely on robots for simple medical tasks. What if the robots break down and/or the generation of medical professionals with traditional education pass on.

MD: We’re racing towards an era in which humans will be redundant. I had a conversation with my mother recently, discussing the future of literacy. She highlighted the importance of learning to read and write, but I argued that children already rely on spell-checker. In the future machines will just read text aloud for us, and speech-to-text will be normality. It begs the question, do children really need to learn to read and write?

CC: Just like a machine, humans need to learn in order to have knowledge, and they need to learn how to think.

LT: Yes, the important element of being human is our ability to interpret information and use it in the correct way. In the practice of law, I believe only humans could know how clients are feeling, what keeps them up at night or what their challenges are. Could you really input that into a robot or AI system? Could a robot ever learn to think commercially?

MD: Empathy machines exist through the medium of VR, so you could imagine a scenario in which robots could think along those lines.

LT: There will be a period of adjustment for humans – not everyone will want to speak to a robot.

MD: I agree, we understand and are excited about the prospect of AI but 99% of the population will find it terrifying. There are so many potential advancements that could adversely or positively affect society. What about transport ticketing? That’s attempting to beneficially change the behaviour of transport users.

HF: I’ve been amazed by the changes in London over the past two years. On a recent visit I tried to use my Oyster card, but I realised that most people have turned to the contactless system.

MD: I’m often hesitant to use my contactless card as I am never quite sure how much money it has cost me.

Jon Ginn, We Are Base: We [Base] are currently experimenting with mobile ticketing for transport. The majority of the public do not use technology as much as those in the creative industries, so helping others to understand why mobile ticketing is better can often prove to be difficult. Moving forward the aim is to eliminate the need for a ticket, allowing transport users to just hop on and their journey is automatically tracked.

MD: Oh, like the Amazon shop?

JG: Yes, it’s very similar to that. We are preparing a trial this year that enables people to use public transport in a specific city and automatically be billed at the end of the month.

MD: I suppose the bigger question is, how quickly will the population be educated and then adapt to using this technology?

CC: I feel as though our generation are in limbo. I remember using Tele-text to check the weather, but when I was pondering the weather recently my 4-year-old said “Are you going to ask Alexa?”. As she is so young and has been raised with technology such as virtual personal assistants, she is already embracing it. Today’s children won’t worry about Oyster Cards or Contactless, whereas our generation are having to adapt to the technology.

Sam Johnson, Rubicon Recruitment: This links back to what Matt said earlier – does an individual need learn to read or write when personal virtual assistants like Alexa exist?

HF: I think learning is really important – it’s in learning to do that we develop valuable thought processes that help us to be creative.

MD: I agree. I studied a degree in 3D Design and despite not having designed anything, the processes I learned have been extremely valuable – it is the process of writing things down that help us to understand and question things.

Alex Lant, PKF Francis Clark: What about the simple things? Surely a computer should be able to predict our behaviour.

HF: Yes predictable things, but when you’re creating something new how can that be predicted? By definition, something new needs to be outside of what has been created before so surely that is impossible to predict.

MD: What about the cost of all this? In regards to your clients Jon, there are legacy systems for customers wanting to purchase physical tickets from bus drivers, and there are newer ticketless systems for those wanting to hop on and off.

JG: The cost of maintaining these different systems can be very high, plus cash is expensive to handle.

CC: I don’t tend to carry cash, so having a mobile app to purchase bus tickets is really helpful to me.

MD: It is an expensive leap of faith by companies. Does it really give bus companies a competitive edge if they invest in these systems?

JG: Yes, many cities want to be the first to implement new systems and be seen as innovative.

HF: So what happens if you pre-buy your ticket on a specific company’s app? Do you have to wait for that specific bus company?

CC: Yes, it could be seen as way of encouraging customers to be faithful to one company.

JG: We have been working with Bournemouth University Data Science Institute to look at ‘Big Data’ and analyse how people use the current bus networks. If we can collate that data and give it to the network, they can use it to improve and provide more relevant services.

AL: Essentially you can react a lot quicker with access to ‘Big Data’ – you can really be on the button.

MD: Andy Law, Founder of St Luke’s (Advertising Agency) did a talk for an Insurance company and said, ’Imagine if Google or Amazon entered the insurance market?’. He continued, ‘you’re out of business within a fortnight’. These companies know more about their customers, what and when they buy and how much they spend. They can create bespoke packages for every single customer based on their buying habits.

JG: Did you know that when Google first made their Android, they wanted to make it free – which didn’t work. But it was because they were more interested in the data.

MD: Yes, the data is worth more money to them.

JG: But, when robots take all the jobs it may mean that people can no longer afford the technology created for them by the data. It needs to work harmoniously.

MD: It sounds like this could take generations…

HF: So looking to the future, what will we all be doing? While robots are doing the work, are we on the beach?

SJ: We already know that in the next 5 years we will not be recruiting for the same roles as today. Every 5-10 years different jobs become available as technology replaces or adapts them.

LT: I can envisage a scenario in which humans become the ‘Premier League’ of the employment industry – highly sought after, with 1 experienced human managing 50 robots. But the question is, how would that person become experienced?

 

The discussion could have continued long after the last slices of pizza disappeared, however it’s clear that the conversation highlighted the impact of artificial intelligence on human kind’s ability to learn. Although robots will inevitably replace many jobs and affect many industries, perhaps there is more we can do to prevent this from desisting our ability to learn key skills and develop valuable knowledge.

To join in with the next discussion email takepart@opensauce.events

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