A Recipe for AI-Driven Growth

A Recipe for AI-Driven Growth

As a local Councillor, it was impossible for me to forget the overarching responsibility that all elected representatives - and indeed all public-sector workers - have,  to ensure that we provide tax payers and our wider electorate with value for money.

In 2021 the Conservative group in Southampton took control of the Council from Labour and was committed to deliver on both those pledges. We doubled the Council's investment in roads and pavements - the single biggest issue for local residents - whilst at the same time freezing Council tax and service charges for Council tenants.

However, while we were committed to delivering these important priorities, I was also honest with residents. Without substantial growth in the local economy, we wouldn’t be able to keep on freezing Council tax year after year.

And so inevitably I'd ask myself: where on earth could that kind of growth come from?

AI-driven growth

In my professional life I work in technology and research. And one area of tech which has taken my sector by storm in recent months - particularly with the release of ChatGPT - has been that of artificial intelligence (AI).

And I want to convince you that here in Britain, we have all the right ingredients to turn AI into a real success story for our economic growth. We’re already topping the European charts in terms of private investment in AI, and we have more tech unicorns than France and Germany combined. The UK is the tech powerhouse of Europe! But we can go much further.

I read in a recent report from PwC, that the UK’s GDP will be up to 10.3% higher in 2030 as a result of AI, making it one of the biggest opportunities in today's fast-changing economy. If we execute this well, we can pull a blinder in terms of transforming growth, productivity and society across the whole of the UK.

And right at the heart of this - I think - is us seizing our new-found opportunities of being an independent self-governing democracy, to deliver a truly pro-innovation approach to AI.

The freedoms of self-governance

You see, as an independent nation, it’s our right and therefore our responsibility to determine our approach to AI regulation. Rightly or wrongly, that’s an implication of the choice the British people made in 2016. And rather than giving responsibility for AI governance to a centralised body, like the EU is doing through its AI Act, I think we need to adopt a much more light-touch and proportionate approach.

In particular, we need to ensure that we don’t impose a one-size-fits-all set of rules. That would hugely stifle innovation. Rather we need to recognise that appropriate use of AI will vary considerably across different sectors, and will also evolve as new technologies emerge. That’s what stakeholders I speak to tell me they want from government.

In just the last couple of weeks, Meta has announced that it's not currently feasible for them to launch their competitor to Twitter (called 'Threads') in the EU due to excessively onerous requirements of the EU's GDPR regulations. In the following week, OpenAI confirmed that its first international office would be based on London, after expressing concerns about the EU's proposed AI Act.

This should be received as a wake-up call to heavy-handed regulators and as a mark of confidence in the UK's approach to AI regulation. Instead of trying to define and control hypothetical risks that will quickly become out of date, we need to focus on responding to the identifiable high risk areas, resulting from emerging AI.

We need our rules to cultivate growth and to do that they need to be minimalist and agile and future-proof. That being the case, I think on balance, it is in our best interests to leave each sector - including their statutory regulators - to take the primary role in shaping them.

We don't want to bother AI innovators with regulatory drama which would inevitable miss the mark. Rather, we want to create the space for technology companies to experiment and explore new avenues to exploit AI for human advancement, so that we stand the best chance of benefitting from all it could offer. Let’s continue developing the common principles and guidance for regulators to work from, but empower them to apply them in a proportionate way in their sector.

Cautious optimism

Having said that, we can’t be naïve. There are considerable risks which will arise from AI, in terms of privacy, security, safety, and freedom of speech and expression. We should be global advocates for transparency, explainability, fairness and truthfulness, because these are fundamentally global challenges.

But by adopting a light-touch sector-based approach, we can optimise the balance of risk and reward, and can enable AI to unlock enormous opportunities right across the country.

If we get it right, the kind of growth this could generate could continue to fund the improvement of public services - including in Southampton - while still giving political leaders the leeway to bring down the tax burden to more sustainable levels.