This year’s CognitionX festival presented a packed lineup of all things AI & blockchain. The breakthroughs in AI for public engagement, health tech and education are particular exciting from a CivTech perspective. Of course it was also great to meet Sophia!

Sophia the robot

As governments and related organisations make use of the new technologies, they also need to balance fears around job loss, ethics and killer robots! Whilst the latter are an unlikely problem, the economic impact on the workforce and the various ethical problems including the oft reported AI bias issues are something that governments will need to respond to.

Balancing Fears

On the ethics stage, Dr Steven Cave, Executive Director, Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence and Dr Kanta Dihal, Postdoctoral Researcher, Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence, explored AI Narratives. They gave examples from literature to show that fears around AI aren’t new. It was rumoured that Descartes had a robot daughter and mechanical people are even mentioned in the Iliad.
Image result for descarte robot
Whilst most aren’t really worried about the human race being subjugated to androids, there are real fears around the job market and AI leading to our obsolescence. CivTech initiatives that use the latest AI will have to demonstrate how new jobs are generated, not lost, through governments embracing technology.

Royal Mail – A case study

A good example of on-boarding AI and protecting jobs can be seen at the Royal Mail. CEO Moya Green spoke at CogX about their recent technology upgrade and how it means: “Royal Mail will remain competitive as no one delivers to a higher standard than the Royal Mail.” The Royal Mail is a great case study for CivTech as it faced the question of how to drive change when technology isn’t part of your DNA. Moya Green admitted: “Nobody likes change, from the age of 7 or 8 we have set ways of doing things. As we get older, we get more set in our ways. We had to show our staff the benefits of technology & be realistic.”

Image result for cogx royal mail moya greene

This type of impact of technology on jobs has been seen before. ATMs replaced bank staff in many areas leading to some job loss, but the new technology allowed banks to run more branches means that more new jobs were created than the number lost. The staff saw a change in their role as they did less and less cash-handling and more customer service and relationship building tasks. The problem solving skills of the staff were used in new and creative ways as the mundane roles were handed to more efficient machines. A similar trend is expected as government embraces CivTech in education, healthcare and governance. The workforce are able to apply a vast array of skills, experience and even physical input as and when it is needed whilst even the best AI can only do what it’s programmed to do.

Automation and AI is set to make our workforce better, smarter and faster whilst increasing the economic value of the tasks that require dynamic thinking and a human approach.  Governments will do well to lead in the uptake of AI and show citizens that technology is beneficial for the workforce.

The possibilities opened by AI are many, as we free up human time from tedious tasks, people will be free to create and explore in completely new ways.

Other articles:

The Impact of Cuts on Public Health

AI for Government is Like AI Everywhere Else

When Civ Tech saves the Government millions

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