The UK is risking a divide between companies who have started to use artificial intelligence-enable technology and those who haven’t, according to a survey from Digital Futures at Work Research Centre (Digit). The survey was conducted by a team of researchers from the University of Leeds alongside colleagues from Sussex and Cambridge.
Results from the survey show that about 36% of UK employers have already invested in AI technologies over the past five years, with 10% more planning to do so in the next two years. This includes, for example, chatbots, smart assistants, and cloud computing.
Worryingly, the data also points out a skills problem. Less than 10% of employers see the need to invest in digital training in the coming years, despite 75% finding hiring staff with the right skills difficult. About 60% of employers reported that none of the employees attended formal training in digital skills in the past year.
“A mix of hope, speculation, and hype is fuelling a runaway narrative that the adoption of new AI-enabled digital technologies will rapidly transform the UK’s labour market, boosting productivity and growth. These hopes are often accompanied by fears about the consequences for jobs and even of existential risk,” said Professor Mark Stuart, Pro Dean for Research and Innovation at Leeds University Business School and lead researcher in this work. “However, our findings suggest there is a need to focus on a different policy challenge. The workplace AI revolution is not happening quite yet. Policymakers will need to address both low employer investment in digital technologies and low investment in digital skills if the UK economy is to realise the potential benefits of digital transformation.”
“At a time when AI is shifting digitalisation into a higher gear, it is important to move beyond the hype and have a debate that is driven by evidence rather than fear and anecdote. This new report by the Digital Futures at Work Research Centre (Digit) does exactly this and provides a nuanced picture of the impact of digital technologies on the workplace, highlighting both the risks and the opportunities,” added Stijn Broecke, Senior Economist at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
According to the survey, companies that invested in AI-based technology felt it could improve efficiency, productivity, and service quality. On the other hand, the key reasons for not investing in this technology included AI being irrelevant to the business and lacking skills needed within the company.
The researchers also found little evidence that AI has led to job losses. In fact, quite the contrary. Companies using AI technologies were more likely to have increased their staff numbers in the five-year covered by the survey.
The First Findings report is available on the Digit website.