Artificial intelligence in spotlight at Kingston University event

Artificial intelligence (AI) can be a force for good, but greater diversity in the networks involved in its development and better regulation are needed to avoid unintended consequences.

That was the view of serial entrepreneur and influential business leader Caroline Plumb, giving a keynote address to staff at Kingston University. It coincided with the first anniversary of the University’s visionary Town House Strategy which is delivering a progressive new model of education by supporting graduates to bring innovation, enterprise,  digital and creative problem-solving skills into the workplace.

Ms Plumb said: “Artificial intelligence and innovation are built into the fabric of society. They’re built into the way machines work and how we think about things. We now need to think about how we can add AI to our experience going forward. I do think it is a force for good.”

Ms Plumb said it was concerning, however, that so much AI technology was based around relatively small networks in Silicon Valley, adding: “It would be much more comfortable if those networks were more diverse and more geographically distributed, not to mention better for the environment.”

She cautioned that there could be a danger of unintended consequences unless strong regulation was put in place. “I don’t think it’s realistic to ask those producing AI in the US to self-regulate,” she said. “This is an area where the government, more broadly, needs to lead.”

Ms Plumb’s career path has coincided with the development of AI, culminating in its rapid growth in recent years through the use of the deep learning approach in which computers are taught to process data in ways that imitate the human brain. She currently heads Gravita, a technology-enabled accounting firm providing services to small and medium-sized businesses. She previously rose to prominence after founding Fluidly, an award-winning fintech working to transform the way businesses managed their money using artificial intelligence.

When asked about whether the UK had the infrastructure to support innovation, she said she believed it was a strong place to start a business. Among its many advantages were the skills and ideas that could be drawn from the higher education sector, its time zone, language, legal framework and its approach to intellectual property.

“You can launch a start-up in the UK very quickly,” she said. “What’s harder, perhaps, is tapping into capital later and scaling. I think we’ve got a bit of a funding gap at the scale up part that needs to be closed. People think it’s hard to start a business and it’s really not – it’s about taking that first step and moving on from there. It’s about encouraging people so they believe they can do it and will give it a go.”