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UK’s slow progress on AI “harms competitiveness”

The number of UK-based businesses with an AI strategy has more than doubled in the last year, but experts have warned that rates of adoption are still too slow.

A survey of just over a thousand UK business leaders revealed that the proportion with an AI strategy in place had risen from 11 to 24 per cent since 2018. But executives at Microsoft, which commissioned the research, claimed that the remaining leaders risked compromising the UK’s competitiveness.

“Organisations that forgo or delay implementing AI solutions risk missing the boat,” said Cindy Rose, Microsoft UK’s chief executive. In an apparent reference to Brexit, Rose added that in “this moment […] both UK leadership and competitiveness on the global stage is more vital than ever”.

The study comes just two weeks after MPs warned of the risks not adopting any form of automation. Writing for NS Tech, Rachel Reeves, the chair of the business select committee, argued that “the real danger for workers, for the UK economy and for future jobs growth is not that we have too many robots in the workplace but that we have too few”.

Business leaders who had adopted AI claimed performance had risen by 11.5 per cent, while Microsoft said that an NHS trust in Suffolk had saved 4,500 hours by using its machine learning software.

However, the survey revealed that 64 per cent of leaders do not see a business advantage to using AI, while three quarters “doubt the country has the socio-economic structures in place to lead in AI on the global stage”.

Clare Barclay, chief operating officer of Microsoft UK, said AI-driven change “is as much about culture as it is technology”, but “it seems that culture isn’t getting the airtime it deserves”.