Demand from the public for ethical, unbiased and inclusive technology is rising and it’s critical that organisations meet those concerns “head on”, the Chief Executive of Microsoft UK has said at Future Decoded.
Cindy Rose used her keynote at the company’s biggest customer and partner event of the year to share the view that technology was a great enabler, shaping workplaces across industries and improving lives.
However, she said it was “impossible to underestimate the importance of being thoughtful and proactive” on ensuring artificial intelligence (AI) has a positive effect on the world.
“As AI capabilities rapidly advanced and usage scales, it’s critical for organisations to design, develop and deploy these technologies in a way that is ethical, unbiased and inclusive,” Rose said as she opened Future Decoded at the ExCeL in London. “Employees, customers, investors and society are increasingly demanding that there are ethical frameworks around these emerging technologies, and we must be prepared to meet that demand head-on.”
In doing so, the UK can maintain its global leadership in the development of AI and reap the economic benefits, she added, pointing out that PwC believes AI will contribute up to $15 trillion to the global economy over the next decade.
The UK was one of the top countries in the world for developing AI tech and raising investment in AI.
“That’s pretty solid ground to build on,” Rose said. “These strengths put the UK in a position to really maximise the economic growth opportunity in the years to come.”
Future Decoded was held just a few days after the UK Government used the UN General Assembly in New York to call for a common set of AI principles to “shape the norms and standards that will guide the development of emerging technology”.
Rose said that was “absolutely the right idea” and welcomed the Government’s proposal for a summit in London in 2020 “to discuss and debate this vital issue of our time”.
Hundreds of journalists, analysts, business leaders and technology fans arrived at the ExCeL on the first day of the two-day event to hear from leading Microsoft executives such as Chief Operating Officer Clare Barclay, as well as UK astronauts Helen Sharman and Tim Peake.
Peggy Johnson, Microsoft’s Executive Vice-President of Business Development, pointed out that while technology is moving fast, it is bringing opportunities for companies to transform and people to learn new skills.
“It’s all about the ways you can better serve your customers. empower your employees, fulfil the vision of your founders and keep the commitment to the communities that you live in,” she said. “When you think about it this way, digital transformation doesn’t have to be daunting. Think of it not as a threat, but as an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to keep doing all the things you usually do but you’ll be able to do them better, faster, smarter and with more focus.”
Digital transformation requires trust, she added, as cloud providers – such as Microsoft and its Azure platform – store companies’ data safely and securely.
“We recognise that world-changing technology carries with it a great responsibility to be sure that the world we helped create with that technology is an ethical one,” Johnson said. “That’s why one of our most fundamental principles is always also one of the simplest. What’s yours is yours. That means your data doesn’t belong to us. It’s not ours to share. And it’s not ours to sell. It’s ours to respect and it’s ours to protect. And that’s exactly what we strive to do each and every day.”
Lucas Joppa, Microsoft’s Chief Environmental Officer, spoke about how technology can help the world tackle fundamental challenges such as growing populations, access to clean water and climate change. He welcomed OceanMind to the stage, a UK-based company that uses AI to tackle illegal fishing, highlighting its work as a great blend of technology and real action on the ground.
Microsoft is following a similar path with its five-year, $50 million programme called AI for Earth to help organisations use the company’s technology to work towards solving those issues.
Joppa announced a second cohort would open in the UK soon.
“The AI for Earth programme puts organisations together to collaborate and share, exposing them to an entirely new curriculum that focuses on business development, AI best practices and social impact innovation,” he said.
Ahead of the event, Microsoft launched its AI report – entitled Accelerating Competitive Advantage with AI – which revealed that organisations currently using AI are outperforming those that are not by 11.5%.