Rethinking automation

From Civil society Scotland Wiki

Context[edit | edit source]

Our world is changing. Artificial Intelligence (AI), automation, and other new technologies are already having an impact upon our organisations, our jobs, and our lives. Increasingly it is suggested that these changes are happening at such a pace and with such wide ranging implications for society that we are entering the fourth industrial revolution. In many ways what the future holds is unclear. Despite this, however, we can build capacity and share experiences to ensure that the third sector has the skills to recognise and progress the opportunities that this revolution will bring. New technology can and will, enable the third sector to provide better services, support and campaigns. Similarly new technologies have scope to reduce inequalities, build a greener society, and lay the foundations for a more inclusive sustainable economy. Ultimately, however, new technologies and their applications will be shaped by the aspirations of their developers and influenced by the social values of the society in which they are developed. The third sector therefore has a key role to play if we are to ensure that our values and the communities we work with are consider as new technologies are developed.

These changes are not taking place in isolation, other large scale societal and demographic shifts continue: globalisation; an ageing population; increasing diversity within the work force. These changes paired with the fourth industrial revolution will have a significant impact on both Scottish society and societies around the world.

This page offers a space where colleagues from across the third sector are encouraged to share their views and experiences of the key opportunities and challenges for the third sector, the communities we work with and wider society.

Political Context[edit | edit source]

The UK Government estimates that by 2035 Artificial Intelligence (AI) could add around £630 Billion to the UK economy. To capitalise on this and secure Britain's position as a world leader in technology and innovation Chancellor Philip Hammond’s 2017 Budget included: £75m for artificial intelligence; £160m for 5G mobile networks; £100m for an additional 8,000 fully qualified computer science teachers supported by a new National Centre for Computing; a retraining partnership with the TUC and the CBI to boost digital skills in the workforce; and £76m to boost digital and construction skills.

At Westminster, an All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR APPG), Chaired by Alan Mak MP, was formed in October 2016. Similarly, the Lords Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence was appointed in June 2017 to consider the economic, ethical and social implications of advances in artificial intelligence, and to make recommendations. This resulted in the report, AI in the UK: ready, willing and able? which outlined a number of recommendations to ensure the UK is ready for a rapidly evolving world including a set of ethical principles. In 2017, Artificial Intelligence was also identified as one of the ‘Grand Challenges’ in the, Industrial Strategy: Building a Britain fit for the future.

At an EU level, AI is one of European Commission Digital Vice President Andrus Ansip’s three priorities for the rest of his mandate. In April 2018 the Commission published a Communication on Artificial Intelligence for Europe which recognised AI and robotics as key driver of economic development with socio-economic, legal and ethical impacts that must be carefully addressed. The Commission previously published the Digitising European Industry strategy, launched in April 2016, identifying Robotics and Artificial intelligence as cornerstone technologies.

Key terms and trends[edit | edit source]

Term Explainer
Artificial Intelligence (AI) Machines are capable of performing intelligent tasks. We are decades away from machines capable of performing the entire range of human tasks (general artificial intelligence). In many fields, however, there are rapid improvements in AI-powered technology. Self-driving cars, virtual personal assistants, and smart home devices, are all examples of AI. Similarly, fraud detection services, purchase predictions, image and voice recognition software, some security surveillance, and even a simple Google search, all utilise AI.

AI is often considered the most significant emerging technology of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Algorithm A set of step-by-step operations required to perform a calculation, process a data set, or to test a logical statement.
Automation The use of automatic processes and/or equipment to achieve a task. Commonly associated with manufacturing.
Big Data Data that expands in volume, velocity and variety at an ever-increasing rate. Access to large quantities of data is one of the factors fuelling the current AI boom.
Robotics The design, construction, operation, and application of robots. British Automation & Robot Association
The Internet of Things (IOT) Physical devices that can connect with each other or to the internet such as cars, domestic appliances, and even items of clothing.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution: the impact on employment.[edit | edit source]

Artificial intelligence, automation, and globalisation are among the biggest economic and social issues of our age as rapid technological advances promise to revolutionise work and life. This Fourth Industrial Revolution will blur the lines between physical, digital and biological spheres, as new technologies change the nature of work and how public and private services are delivered (Klaus Schwab, World Economic Forum). The transformation will be hugely complex and fuelled, in part, by the continuous accumulation and analysis of data.

For businesses with a focus on profit there will be many opportunities to take advantage of the efficiencies that new technologies will bring. Job roles that are routine, repetitive and predictable will be automated. Technological advances will also enable people to work more flexibly, at home or outside of an organisations standard working hours. Such changes would enable employees to share, or not require, a work space, reducing spending on office space and utilities. Similarly there is scope to improve efficiency, save energy, and reduce emissions. However, such flexibility may also encouraged short-term contracts, freelance, and temporary work and perhaps impact upon the work life balance of employees.

Like profit making organisations, the third sector will also be able to take advantage of these efficiencies, but what will they mean both for the sector itself, the people and communities we work with and wider society?

Technologies will increasingly enable small organisations to make a bigger impact, if they have the skills to utilise them. Similarly, there will be potential for staff to have more time to focus on their organisations key aspirations as administrative tasks are increasingly automated. AI may also offer opportunities for the sector to achieve greater financial stability as it will offer the opportunity to engage donors in new and ever more personal ways, encouraging donations and volunteering. However, in the short term at least, there will be an increasing demand for the sector. To meet these demands the sector must ensure its workforce have the skill-set necessary to recognise and implement the advantages new technologies offer.

Discussions of technological advances have tended to focus on the impact on employment and for good reason. By 2030, the job market  will look significantly different. Globalisation and demographic and technological changes will have a significant impact on employment, reducing demand for some occupations while increasing demand for others (Nesta, The future of skills: employment in 2030, report). Generally, jobs that largely involve routine tasks are at a greater risk of decline, while occupations requiring interpersonal and cognitive skills are likely to grow. New technologies will be used to perform tasks from piloting vehicles to rules based occupations such as law and accounting.

Interestingly, many of the areas in which the sector itself works are difficult to automate. Jobs that involve strategic thinking, creativity, building complex relationships, high interpersonal and emotional skills, teamwork, coordinating people and communications, and leadership are less likely to be automated.

In a recent report, Nesta explores the likely impact of new technologies on the UK labour market. The report concludes in the UK in 2030 there will be more jobs nationally than there are today suggesting fears around mass unemployment are largely unfounded.

The issue for the sector is not the number of jobs likely to be automated but what skills people across society will need to access the employment opportunities of the future. As is currently the case, as new technologies disrupt labour markets and replace workers across a range of vocations, some people and communities will be more vulnerable to job losses than others. Similarly, some people and communities will find it more difficult to access and master the skills needed to access employment. The poorest performing cities are also those most vulnerable to job losses (NESTA and the Centre for Cities). These cities already have a higher welfare spend per capita, a lower share of jobs in knowledge intensive business services, and a lower share of high-skilled workers (Centre for cities, 2018). Structural employment, rather than lack of job opportunities, is therefore likely to be the societal challenge that the third sector and wider society must address.

To achieve this it is likely that the sector will have a role to play in supporting the communities they work with to re-train several times during their working life as the labour market evolves.

·        Like profit making organisations, the sector will be able to take advantage of the efficiencies AI, automation, and other new technologies bring.

·        The third sector must ensure there staff have the skill-set necessary to recognise and implement the advantages new technologies offer.

·        The sector has a role to play in ensuring that people have the skills to avoid structural unemployment.  

How are Artificial Intelligence (AI), automation, and other new technologies likely to effect the third sector?[edit | edit source]

AI, automation, and other new technologies have and continue to open new markets and opportunities for progress. Over the next decade and beyond, these new technologies have the potential to be a valuable tool. SCVO believe, however, that these tools can only realise their potential if the third sector, wider civil society, government, and industry work together to develop the technology, manage its challenges, and ensure that everyone can equally take advantage of its benefits. Over the next decade and beyond, these new technologies will be increasingly utilised to deliver healthcare, education, infrastructure and aid globally. New technologies will therefore:

  • Offer new ways for charities to achieve their mission
  • Change the way charities operate as organisations
  • Present new challenges for charities to address.

Challenges and opportunities[edit | edit source]

AI and other new technologies can solve many societal challenges, however, these new technologies can also become a societal challenge itself:

Societal challenges:

  • The most vulnerable in society are more likely to have their employment disrupted due to AI.
  • A few private companies control much of the knowledge about new technologies. AI could therefore concentrate wealth and power in the hands of an even smaller minority of people - those who own and control the technology and its applications.
  • Access to large quantities of data is one of the factors fuelling the expansion of AI. The ways in which data is gathered and accessed needs to change. Innovative organisations, large and small, need to have fair and reasonable access to data, while citizens need to be able to protect their privacy and personal agency in this rapidly evolving world.
  • Tension between privacy and security is likely to increase. This tension will have a significant impact on regulation.
  • The third sector must ensure that new technologies will benefit society as a whole.

Organisational challenges:

  • New technologies will change the competitive landscape in which the sector and other organisations work within creating winners and losers
  • Upskilling new and existing staff to understand the potential of AI, new technologies and automation in their role and workplace will be a key challenge for the sector. The sector, like other sectors, will require data literate staff with the skills to read, use, interpret, and communicate about data, and participate in policy debates in areas affected by AI.
  • Many third sector organisations are not yet aware of the issues or do not understand their importance and relevance to their work
  • The sector do not have a seat at the table in many forums where issues around new technologies are debated

The third sector should therefore has a role to play in:

  • Ensuring everyone can benefit from emerging technology
  • Building public trust 
  • Creating a space for collaborative innovation
  • Ensuring governmental strategies for the wider Fourth Industrial Revolution acknowledge the role of civil society in shaping the development of new technology, as well as the impact that these technologies might have on civil society itself

Similarly, new technologies raise many ethical questions: who will be liable if algorithms make a mistake? Will systems be transparent? How can we ensure consent?Who benefits? How can we ensure rights are fulfilled? Values and principles must therefore be embedded in every application of this technology.

Values and Principles[edit | edit source]

Without regulation, the efficient and ethical use of AI relies upon the people entrusted with its application.

The House of Lords Select Committee 2018 report on Artificial Intelligence, AI in the UK: ready, willing and able? recommends a core set of widely recognised ethical principles for those developing or using AI. Organisations could sign up to in the form of a code. As a starting point the Committee suggest five overarching principles:

1.    Artificial intelligence should be developed for the common good and benefit of humanity.

2.    Artificial intelligence should operate on principles of intelligibility and fairness.

3.    Artificial intelligence should not be used to diminish the data rights or privacy of individuals, families or communities.

4.    All citizens have the right to be educated to enable them to flourish mentally, emotionally and economically alongside artificial intelligence.

5.    The autonomous power to hurt, destroy or deceive human beings should never be vested in artificial intelligence.

Inclusive AI and Algorithmic fairness[edit | edit source]

The advances in AI in the past few years have enabled the automation of decisions in a range of areas: education; hiring; lending; and criminal risk assessment. For example, machine learning can be used to make predictions in job candidate screening, issuing insurance or making loan approvals. These decisions effect people's lives. As is the case when human judgement is applied, these decisions are not free from bias.

AI is designed by people, as such it is reflective of its creators. It is important that the demographics of AI creators reflects the demographics of people from across society who will use this technology. Ultimately, this should be everyone. The creators of new technologies do not, however, reflect the diversity of our societies. Currently, only around 13.5% percent of those working in machine learning are women (Women in Machine Learning). Bias in training data provided by creators can therefore create biases that result in judgments that are discriminatory. For example, AI programs could recruit staff in the image of their creators. Some examples of this already exist: In a recent investigations ProPublica found predictive software used by US courts was biased against African Americans, calculating their risk of reoffending at almost twice the rate of white defendants.

The third sector must be aware of the potential impact of these biases both upon their beneficiaries and when utilising new technology.

AI and the environment[edit | edit source]

AI presents transformative opportunities to address environmental challenges, however, it also has the capability to accelerate environmental degradation (PCW, 2018).

For example, AI can be used to:

  • Match energy generation and demand in real-time
  • Remotely inspect renewable energy sites
  • Analyse data from smart sensors and meters to provide predictions on energy usage requirements and cost or water useage
  • Help to monitor the sustainability of different species
  • Monitor air quality and pollution in real-time
  • Optimise traffic flow
  • Monitor extreme weather and natural disasters.

Third Sector Initiatives[edit | edit source]

Organisation Initiative Purpose
Arthritis Research UK AI-powered ‘virtual personal assistant’ To answer beneficiaries questions quickly and easily. Initially the virtual personal assistant will provide general information about arthritis and exercise. However, this is expected to be expanded to include answers to a broader range of questions on subjects such as diet and treatment options.  
Age UK AI-powered platform This recently completed a pilot program with Accenture uses artificial intelligence (AI) and voice enabled technologies to help older people navigate their care delivery and well-being. The AI-powered platform can learn behaviours and preferences, allowing the platform to spot abnormalities in behaviour and send alerts.
Cornerstone New employment / team model The new model gives care staff the autonomy to manage their own work in order to provide the best quality of care to service users. The model focuses on coaching and mentoring rather than management and supervision encouraging staff to become effective decision makers to drive their own work.
Shelter Scotland Chatbot (Ask Ailsa) A bot developed to coincide with major changes being introduced to private renting in Scotland. The bot answers questions about private tenants’ rights in Scotland and ensure they are aware of the new rules.

SCVO's Digital Pioneers project also offers examples from across the third sector of organisations which are utilising a range of tools and approaches to help improve the way they support people and work more efficiently.

Other Initiatives the Sector Should be Aware of[edit | edit source]

Organisation Initiative Purpose

Potential Impact

Amazon Amazon Go. Tills are eliminated by a network of cameras placed around the store. People tap their phones on a terminal on the way in, and then whatever they pick up and put in their bag, they are charged for. If this approach was to take off across the private sector there could be an expectation for a similar experience in charity shops.

The hardware required is simple and its likely likelihood is that Amazon and others will offer such systems as a service to retailers at a relatively low monthly cost.

What impacts might this have? Is it important for the third sector to create employment or volunteering opportunities?

Autonomous vehicles A driverless car self-driving car or vehicle. What impact may this have on community transport? Or if people begin to share cars through mobility on demand vehicles, on the environment or public transport?

Useful Resources[edit | edit source]

Balaram B, Greenham T and Leonard J.(2017). Artificial Intelligence: Real Public Engagement. The RSA.

Centre for Cities (2018). Cities Outlook  2018.

Corlett, A. (2016). Robot wars: automation and the labour market. Resolution Foundation

Davies, R (2017) 5 Ways AI is Already Having an Impact on Charity, CAF Giving Thought blog, 2nd June.

Davies, R (2017) Future Imperfect: 10 new problems that technology will create and charities will have to deal with, CAF Giving Thought blog, 13th April.

Davies (2017) “Giving in a World Without Work? Automation, Universal Basic Income and the future of philanthropy”, CAF Giving Thought blog, 11th January.

Executive Office of the President National Science and Technology Council Washington. (2016). Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence.

Fenech M, Strukelj N and Buston O. (2018). Ethical, social, and political challenges of artificial intelligence in health. Future Advocacy and the Welcome Trust.

Gunson, R and Thomas, R. (2017). Equipping Scotland for the future: Key challenges for the Scottish skills system, IPPR Scotland

Herweijer C, Combes B, Ramchandani P, and Sidhu J. (2018). Fourth Industrial Revolution for the Earth: Harnessing Artificial Intelligence for the Earth.

House of Lords Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence (2018). AI in the UK: ready, willing and able?

Nominet Trust. (2018). Transforming Lives with Tech: A Global Conversation.

NCVO. (2018). The Road Ahead: A review of the voluntary sector’s operating environment.

Pickering, A. (2017) “Algorithm’s Gonna Get You: What the rise of algorithms means for philanthropy”. CAF Giving Thought blog, 18th January.

Scottish Government and STUC (2018). Technological Change and the Scottish Labour Market.

Sun, M. (2018). The Impacts of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on Jobs and the Future of the Third Sector. NICVA