Artificial Intelligence - this will affect us all, but is this on Wiltshire Council's radar?

Written by Nick Fogg on .


At the next meeting of Wiltshire Council, I intend to ask the following question:

       What steps, if any, is Wiltshire Council taking to anticipate the growth of Artificial Intelligence, both in its own operations and in the County as a whole?

I recently heard a presentation on Artificial Intelligence (AI) at a conference I attended in Dublin.  The prospects are alarming, but there’s no need to panic, at least not just yet.  We’re already hearing about driverless cars.  If they come to be, how many jobs will they replace?  If you go to your GP, chances are that he or she will tap your ailments into a computer.


How long will it be before you type in your own symptoms and the computer delivers you a prescription?  You’ll then have a medical facility that will be on call 24/7.  We’re all increasingly familiar with AI in terms of finance.  Some of us have even grasped the essence of Internet Banking, but all of us gain from some protection from systems that can monitor our financial dealings and ring metaphorical bells when there are variations on our normal patterns.  No less than 3.7 million robots which do the housework were sold worldwide in 2015.  There is also the old issue of good and evil related to new technologies.  Technology is morally neutral. It’s what’s done with it that is good or bad, so it can produce such things as death-dealing drones and malignant cyber attacks, as well as great humanitarian benefits.

What effect will artificial intelligence have on the workplace – or on jobs?  Advancing technology has always ensured that certain skills are superseded and that the necessity for others is created. Yet will more jobs be created by AI than the ones it destroys?  The answer may be optimistic.  A study conducted in 2011 by the McKinsey Global Institute demonstrated that, in France, the internet had caused the loss of half a million jobs in the previous 15 years, but it had created 1.2 million in their stead.  That’s 2.4 jobs gained for everyone lost.  The process may not be immediate.  A briefing note issued by McKinsey last December estimates that only around 5% of current jobs can be fully automated.


Although this may seem a small figure, it represents a lot of jobs, especially since McKinley considers that the figure could rise to 15 to 20 per cent for semi-skilled jobs.  It estimates that 30% of activities in 60% of jobs are capable of being automated.  The pace of implementing such change is well below its notional maximum, however: only 18% of capacity in America and 12% in Europe.  That’s why we need to analyse forthcoming change and take steps to enable people to take advantage of it, so this is why my question is important.

There are other issues too: if there is increased leisure time as a result of the increasing introduction of AI, how will that be occupied?  And then there are serious political implications. There will inevitably be winners and losers in the process. The winners can fend for themselves, but the losers have to be taken seriously.  The Brexit Referendum, Trump’s triumph and the recent General Election all demonstrate that policy-makers have to take the have-nots extremely seriously and it’s likely that, whatever the benefits may be, the advance of AI will increase the number of have-nots.