Is artificial intelligence helping the digital skills gap?


Is Artificial Intelligence causing a digital skills crisis?

Last week MPs warned that the UK is facing a digital skills crisis. Its report explained that 90% of jobs require digital skills to some degree, but flagged that the UK needs another 745,000 workers with digital skills by 2017 in order to remain competitive against other countries. At the moment the skills gap is reportedly costing the UK around £63bn a year.

In tandem, we are seeing more companies invest in automation and artificial intelligence (AI), which reduces the need for humans in the decision making process. For example, Twitter recently announced the acquisition of machine learning startup, Magic Pony Technology.

So what does the advancement of AI mean for the digital skills gap?

Although there are efficiencies to investing in AI, studies indicate only 5% of jobs can be completely automated. AI isn’t about taking away jobs from people, it’s about making people more efficient and effective in their roles. It means people will need different (likely more complex) digital skills – with the lower grade tasks being undertaken by AI. It isn’t that machines will take over the digital world, it’s that the scope of the digital world activity gets bigger.

Businesses can look to machines to bridge the digital skills gap, but they need to use AI as a building block rather than a replacement.

One challenge to the inevitable rise of AI is the law. There are risks surrounding liability for machines – for example, earlier in the year Microsoft launched a smart chat bot called “Tay” but after less than 24 hours the bot reportedly began to spew racist, genocidal and misogynistic messages to users. It was an example of AI ‘going rogue’.

The law is in its infancy in dealing with these issues – AI is a computing revolution and legal evolution is working out how to respond – there is no absolute clarity.  However, machines are proven workers, and in ways their risks will be easier to control because unlike humans, they are predictable and less error-prone.  Any risk of uncertain or increased legal liability will need to be balanced against the likely lower risk of errors.

So, AI isn’t causing a digital skills gap crisis, it is just likely to change the activities where there is a skills gap – by positively removing lower grade tasks from the job spec.  Any future thinking employers and employees should be starting to focus now on those areas which the machines won’t replace.

By Andrew Joint, Commercial Technology partner at Kemp Little