Don’t fear the bot: Stigmas could hold UK businesses back, warns robotics expert

Why breaking down stigmas surrounding robotics and artificial intelligence could boost UK's competitiveness.

Robots and algorithms are getting good at jobs like building cars, writing articles, translating; jobs that traditionally required years of human effort and skill. Depending of which survey or study you read, robots are poised to take over between one in five to a third of all jobs in our economy.  Yet it may just be a case of fearing the unknown, according to those pro-bots.

“You may have seen all over the news that bots are taking over all of our jobs,” says Alan Laing, MD of Sage UK and Ireland.”But what if your accountant’s chat bot could take away parts of running your business that don’t help you grow? We believe AI can be a powerful source for good, if we ensure it’s ethical and given a clear purpose.”

Laing isn’t alone in vouching for bot power at Sage Summit this week. Following the launch of the accounting industry’s first chat bot last year, Sage’s VP of Bots and AI, Kriti Sharma demonstrated why artificial intelligence isn’t the enemy, and can essentially be an efficiency tool for business owners.

Sage has announced a programme designed to break down the human-bot barrier through something the company calls “BotCamp”: a training programme for over one hundred school-leavers between 16 and 25 to help people embrace, not fear, the fourth industrial revolution.

The maturity of the AI industry is still in its infancy, and the UK already faces a significant skills gap, which, according to Sage, can be narrowed by investing in a solid foundation of AI and bot builders for the talent pool of the future.

“AI is an area where the UK leads – and with this announcement we are continuing to push boundaries. We are always looking for great talent to develop our AI capabilities, and the IT skills shortage is well-documented,” says Sage CEO Stephen Kelly. “Finding the right coders is imperative to laying the foundation for the future, and we want to open tech skills up to an audience who might otherwise see AI as a threat.”

Sage is currently working to develop a set of guiding principles to address the concerns people have around the wider ethical context of AI. The programme aims to encourage diversity, accountability and ethical values.

VP of Bots and AI, Sharma had previously told GrowthBusiness about the importance of addressing diversity and inclusion in AI, stressing that developers need to consider diversity and avoid mistakes of the past as they build the new generation of AI technology.

The BotCamp’s focus on diversity aims to do just that, by having a more inclusive and diverse cohort, and by making diversity a core principle. “Having piloted this programme with several school leavers, I believe it has the potential to completely change the mindsets of the young people who take part. We’re giving them the opportunity to believe that you don’t need a computer science degree to write code and create chat bots that will have a significant impact on the communities in which we live and work,” Sharma says.

“And it’s not just about creating developers for Sage – we want to help bridge the digital skills gap we’re seeing in addition to bringing to the fore the next generation of bot creators who are going to solve social issues using their technical skills.”

Another area of interest for Sage is AI powered smart assistants and predictive analytics, and its applications in humanitarian issues such as healthcare, education and access to public services.


Praseeda Nair

Kellen Rempel

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.

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