Professor of Practice David Shrier gives us the inside scoop on the “future business" and how to avoid the negative impacts of AI
The idea of artificial intelligence (AI) has been around for a long time, but useful AI is a relatively recent development – and it’s here to stay. For some, the prospect of witnessing the world undergo this technological renaissance is fascinating, while it fills others with a sense of dread.
Since the late 1990s, David Shrier, Professor of Practice, AI & Innovation, at Imperial College Business School, has been dedicated to exploring how technology can solve big problems in business and society. Throughout his career, he has paid particular attention to AI, and as an expert on both its potential benefits and pitfalls, he considers himself an optimist when it comes to this revolutionary technology.
“I believe we have the ability to shape what our future looks like,” Mr Shrier, one of founders of the School’s Centre for Digital Transformation, says. “And I believe we will shape it towards a positive and more beneficial business environment and society.”
AI and jobs
Despite this, he understands why some people aren’t wholly convinced by a future increasingly dominated by machines. Calling the prospect of AI and its capabilities both "thrilling and frightening", he considers concerns about how the technology will affect the job market, for example, to be “healthy and realistic”.
With one study claiming robots could take over 20 million manufacturing jobs by 2030, perhaps this should come as no surprise. These changes will hit poorer local economies relying on lower-skilled workers hardest, leading to greater income inequality. And it isn’t only manufacturing that will be affected, notes Mr Shrier, who covers this subject in more depth in his lectures and in his book, Augmenting Your Career: How to Win at Work in the Age of AI.
My mission is to help provide people with the tools, framework and knowledge to play their part in shaping the future
“AI-driven jobs disruption or dislocation could make half of the workforce and financial services redundant in the next five to seven years. Given the UK’s heavy reliance on financial services, it’s certainly a very acute problem here and in the Commonwealth more widely.
“AI-driven redundancies aren’t inevitable. Furthermore, the answer is not to put a moratorium on becoming more efficient and making people redundant.”
The question we should be asking, he says, is what do we do with the risk of jobs displacement? He argues in favour of reskilling and creating a new generation of knowledge workers who can handle a digital future. To support this, he points to competing regions, such as China, who are already investing hundreds of billions into reshaping their economy and reskilling people in education and AI research.
“If the UK, Commonwealth, the US and other countries around the world don’t do this, they’ll be left behind.”
Why regulation is crucial
Mr Shrier has also been involved in the creation of regulatory frameworks to help mitigate the negative impacts of artificial intelligence. Through an advisory role with the Science and Technology Options Assessment Committee for the European Parliament, he and a group of fellow experts have been looking into a variety of advanced technologies, including AI, and how they impact the EU and society more broadly.
The group, he says, is generally aligned around a risk-based approach to AI regulation: if a technology presents a low risk of harm to humanity, the free markets are left to govern, however as risk increases, more regulation is put in place. At the top of this “risk pyramid” sits AI that causes direct harm to human beings, which would be banned under the proposed EU framework.
“Things that could have a significant adverse impact on people, such as medical decision-making or the ability to get a loan or a mortgage, needs to have a lot of oversight and humans need to be in the loop,” he says.
Bridging theory and practice
In addition to his academic and advisory roles, Mr Shrier has built a successful career in the private sector in the innovation science space. Among his achievements in this sphere, he has developed $10 billion in growth initiatives for Fortune 1000 companies, private equity and venture capital.
Occupying the related, but often separate, worlds of academia and the private sector has helped him with his work on both sides of the divide, he says. The ability to translate academic theories and frameworks into real-world experiences is “tremendously useful” when talking to students. Conversely, he believes his familiarity with academic frameworks makes him better at what he does in the business world.
I believe we have the ability to shape what our future looks like
This, he says, is a big part of his teaching at the Business School: “My mission is to help provide people with the tools, framework and knowledge to play their part in shaping the future.
“I’m in the ‘future business' and I’m optimistic about what lies ahead because I have a lot of faith in our students.”