A brace of reports presents two very different pictures of international progress in Artificial Intelligence - one of supplier excellence, innovation, and funding, and the other a significant lack of skills.
One report, The State of AI 2022, comes from decision intelligence company Peak. It provides a snapshot of digital transformation, automation, and AI across three major markets - the US, India, and the UK - interviewing 775 decision-makers in businesses of at least 100 employees.
The company sees a big picture of digital transformation paving the way to the “Intelligence Era” in all territories:
Around 41% of decision makers recognize high levels of digital transformation within their industry, with processes routinely automated and new technology frequently introduced. This increases markedly in Professional Services (70%), Transport (54%), and Healthcare (53%), all of which are well above the global average.
With increasing innovation comes the generation of more data – globally we’re projected to create, capture, copy and consume 97 zettabytes of data (each one equal to a trillion gigabytes) this year alone. A third more than 2020, and double that of 2019.
This is all well and good. However, while the overall picture is positive – 70% of all organizations believe they are data driven, with 52% having a Chief Data Officer, for example – the regional findings are surprising.
According to research carried out in April by Opinium, India leads AI adoption in the survey, with 84% of companies using AI in some form, compared with 68% in the US and just 46% in the UK. The report explains:
Respondents in India regularly score their businesses and industries higher than those in other markets. India is the most digitally ready country, with 52% of decision-makers recognising high levels of digital transformation within their industries, compared to 36% in both the US and UK.
Most (90%) of decision-makers in India stated their businesses have a data strategy in place, higher than both the UK (68%) and US (84%). And 96% of those with AI isolated to a small number of departments are ready to implement AI across the entire business, an aspiration held by 90% of decision makers in the US and 72% in the UK.
Peak’s assessment of US performance is more upbeat, but still measured:
The US is notably behind India when it comes to perceptions of digital transformation and adoption of AI, but it is significantly advanced on the UK. Respondents suggested appetite for digital transformation was high within their own business – with an average of eight projects attempted by organizations within the last five years, with a success rate of 75%.
Yet, US decision makers were more likely to perceive no digital transformation in their industry over the same time frame. Nearly a quarter (24%) suggested digital transformation was not part of their industry, compared to 12% in India and 10% in the UK.
The report adds:
When asked whether their businesses were using automation or augmentation to aid with decision-making, there was a general trend in all markets towards automation rather than augmentation. However, the US was the only market in which more businesses had been augmenting decision-making for longer than a year (53%) than those leveraging automation (49%). This is likely a reflection of the US as a service economy, and indicative of the businesses with the funds to invest in the technology.
As for the UK, as with recent stories on robotics, the subtext is clear: there is a troubling gulf between the UK’s supply-side excellence in Industry 4.0 technologies and the user adoption of them, as Britain struggles to be more competitive and productive.
The implication may be that investors are backing UK innovators, but customers are still failing to grasp the opportunities presented by their wares in AI, machine learning, robotics, and automation, with jobs left unfilled and critical skills absent.
So, what is behind the UK’s relatively poor or cautious performance – despite its National AI Strategy, its new Office for AI, and numerous academic and enterprise hotspots located in London and other university cities? The report does not pull its punches:
The UK is at risk of being left behind by comparison to the other countries surveyed. Two-thirds of UK decision-makers say their business has a standardized process for collecting data, compared to 81% in the US and 82% in India. Similarly, far fewer businesses in the UK are currently using AI, although 36% of decision-makers are planning to implement it in the future, higher than late adopters in both the US (21%) and India (12%).
This suggests that UK businesses have been delayed in their adoption of AI by comparison to both India and the US. Indeed, the UK also has the highest incidence of both businesses planning to implement an AI strategy and those with one currently isolated to smaller departments. While 60% of Indian businesses and 45% of US have an AI strategy that is developed enough to be executed across the business, only one-third of UK decision-makers could say the same.
Overall, more businesses are using AI to automate business functions than to make smarter decisions, cautions the report.
A second report does present a rosier picture of UK progress to date, with industry organization Tech Nation announcing that 35 AI tech companies have joined accelerator the Applied AI Growth Programme. In total, venture capital funding for British AI start-ups hit $3.6 billion in the year to the end of August, making it “one of the fastest-growing tech sectors in the UK”.
Nearly three-quarters (24) of the companies joining the government-backed accelerator – the fourth of its kind – hail from outside of London, and half (17) have at least one female founder. Collectively, the companies joining Applied AI 4.0 have raised over £63 million in VC investment to date.
According to Tech Nation, 14% of the UK’s total VC investment is going into AI, demonstrating its position as a “fundamental technology being developed and applied across different businesses, as a result of its power to transform a wide range of industries”.
This is good news for some parts of the world. But data from Peak and other recent surveys suggests that the boom is more on the supply and investment side than among adopting customers, where the UK is struggling in most Industry 4.0 areas.
The conclusion is inescapable: while the UK Government has rightly talked up AI, robotics, and other technologies (including quantum), and has done a good job of setting up an administrative infrastructure, its own funding has been piecemeal.
Much more needs to be done to speed adoption among businesses in pursuit of elusive growth and productivity. Vendors and innovators understand the opportunities, but for whatever reason, many customers seem reluctant to modernise – and critical skills are thin on the ground.