America is embracing the opportunities of AI while the rest of the world frets

The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) continues to generate concerns. The latest furore emerged at the start of this week. Researchers in the top ranked University College London computer science department claimed that an AI algorithm correctly predicts the outcome of 79 per cent of cases heard at the European Court of Human Rights.

The current fear of AI, certainly among the arts graduates who write the editorials in the national quality press, is such that the study was firmly denounced. Computers can never replace human knowledge and experience in these matters.

But in real life, algorithms are increasingly being used by law firms. The law is essentially a series of rules which have been developed over time. Many areas of civil law are enormously complex. Computers can sift through huge amounts of material and save a great deal of expensive human time.

The use of AI is proliferating rapidly in many diverse areas, from the early identification of diseases and the reduction of energy costs for data centres, to the decision on whether or not to grant a loan. An article in the latest issue of the august scientific journal Nature by Kate Crawford and Ryan Calo shows that investment in technologies that use AI in the United States has soared from some $400m in 2011 to well over $2bn last year. They quote IBM’s chief executive, Ginni Rometty, saying that she sees a $2 trillion opportunity in AI systems over the next decade.

Earlier this month, the White House published its report on the future of AI, based on four workshops with leading specialists held across America on how AI will change the way we live.

The US government recognises that this highly disruptive new technology creates new risks in many ways. But so, too, did the railways.

During the opening ceremony of the Liverpool to Manchester line in 1830, the engine Rocket hit and killed a cabinet minister, William Huskisson. Serious suggestions were made that men with red flags should walk in front of trains, which would have defeated the whole point of the technology. But these risks did not stop railways from spreading across the world. In the same way, the White House report concludes that “AI holds the potential to be a major driver of economic growth and social progress”.

The report is packed full with both interesting information and perspectives on AI. But it is also a case study in why the United States continues to be by far the most innovative economy in the world. By and large, the Americans leave innovation to commercial companies. But where the national interest is concerned, the public sector works in symbiosis with the private. They plan a huge programme of basic research in AI, but with a firm eye to its practical application. Just as the US did with biotech, the aim is to develop a critical mass of money, skills and ideas funded by the government, which companies then build on. America is once again embracing the future.

Paul Ormerod 

As published in CITY AM on Wednesday 27th October

Image: Artificial Intelligence by A Health Blog is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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Alex O’Byrne, Associate at Volterra, is an experienced economic consultant specialising in economic, health and social impact, economic strategy, project appraisal and socio-economic planning matters.

Alex has led the socio-economic and health assessments of some of the most high profile developments across the UK, including Battersea Power Station, Olympia London, London Resort, MSG Sphere and Westfield. He has significant experience inputting to EIAs and s106 discussions as well as drafting economic statements, employment and skills strategies and affordable workspace strategies.

Alex is also experienced at economic appraisal for infrastructure. He was project manager of the economic appraisal for the City Centre to Mangere Light Rail in Auckland. He also led the economic and financial appraisals of the third tranche of the Transport Access Program for Transport for New South Wales, in which Alex developed and employed innovative methodological approaches to better capture benefits for individuals with reduced mobility.

He is interested in the limitations of current appraisal methodologies and ways of improving economic and health analysis to ensure it is accessible to as many people as possible. To this end, Alex recognises the importance of transparent and simple to understand analysis and ensuring all work is supported by a robust narrative.

Alex holds a BSc (Hons) in Economics from the University of Manchester and he was a member of the first cohort of the Mayor’s Infrastructure Young Professionals Panel.


Senior Partner

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Ellie is a partner at Volterra, specialising in the economic impact of developments and proposals, and manages many of the company’s projects on economic impact, regeneration, transport and development.

With thirteen years experience at Volterra delivering high quality projects to clients across the public and private sector, Ellie has expertise in developing methods of estimating economic impact where complex issues exist with regards to deadweight, displacement and additionality.

Ellie has significant experience in estimating the economic impact across all types of property development including residential, leisure, office and mixed use schemes.

Project management of recent high profile schemes include the luxury hotel London Peninsula, Battersea Power Station and the Nova scheme at London Victoria. Ellie has also led studies across the country estimating the economic and regeneration impact of proposed transport investments, including studies on HS2 and Crossrail.

Ellie holds a degree in Mathematics and Economics from the University of Cambridge.