Artificial intelligence needs a human touch if it is to change our lives for the better, according to one of the world’s leading figures on AI.

Rob McCargow is the AI programme leader for professional services giant PwC’s UK operation.

Speaking to editor Chris Maguire following his appearance on a panel at our recent AI-focused breakfast event, he said the potential for the technology is enormous – but must be approached in the right way.

“We have to embrace this technology because of the benefits it offers in terms of economic growth, the ability to drive diagnostics in healthcare and to liberate and simplify our lives,” he said.

“However we have to do this on our own terms – there is a need for a human purpose to be at the heart of this.

“My concern, from a dignity point of view, is the language we use talking about jobs. There is a lot of benefit there in terms of replacing risky jobs – such as climbing up electricity pylons or mining – but jobs do provide a purpose in people’s lives.

“We have to be very sensitive about that and ensure the benefits of the tech are spread equitably across all parts of society.”

LISTEN TO THE FULL INTERVIEW IN THIS PODCAST

Onalytica ranked McCargow as the 38th most influential person in AI in the world in a list which placed a focus on Twitter engagement.

That puts him one place above Garry Kasparov, chairman of the Human Rights Foundation, who famously played IBM supercomputer Deep Blue in two chess matches in 1996 and 1997. The second of those matches marked the first time an AI had defeated a reigning world champion at chess.

McCargow said PwC research identified financial services, healthcare and transportation/automotive as the “big three” industries leading the way in AI investment.

“We get side-tracked on all these existential questions such as worrying about robots taking over the world,” said McCargow. “At the end of the day, it’s smart software – not some magic sauce.

“There’s a need to burst the hype bubble and get down to what you do practically to drive business benefits with it.

“There are profound implications for businesses in every single sector coming through on a daily basis with this technology.”

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PwC research has also predicted that AI could be worth an extra £232 billion to the UK’s economy by 2030. However McCargow says start-ups could be key to unlocking its true potential.

“One of the things that the Government’s UK AI review is trying to address is giving a level playing field to these amazing start-ups we have in Manchester and across the UK,” he said.

“We need to find a way of giving them access to the amazingly rich data sets that we hold at a public sector level, to allow them to train their algorithms on it – and drive innovation and growth.”

The other speakers at the event, held at Manchester's Entrepreneurial Spark Powered by NatWest and in conjunction with Pro-Manchester, were:  

  • Adam Hosker, head of commercial (North), Littlefish
  • Sam Coley, co-founder and CTO, TickX
  • Angie Ma, COO, ASI Data Science
  • Richard Potter, CEO, Peak
  • Luke Grimes, co-founder, Webantic
  • Glyn Powditch, CTO and co-founder, Dream Agility
  • Andrea Perizzato, CTO, Dreamr