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Educational overhaul crucial to ensuring UK is equipped for AI revolution

Posted: 26 April 2017 | By Dan Copping

The UK government is being urged to rethink its position on the way new technologies such as AI and machine learning are taught in schools and universities to help safeguard the future economy.

The call was made by The Royal Society, one of the UK’s oldest and most recognised academic societies, in a report released today (April 26) called, Machine learning: the power and promise of computers that learn by example.’

The report provides advice on ways it believes will help to ensure the benefits of AI and ML will be felt on mass and the challenges needed to be overcome.

Skill shortage

One of the key messages centred on the need to better educate both children and adults on new digital technologies

Using figures from IPSOS Mori, it claimed 23% of the UK population currently lack basic digital skills. This is the same figure presented by IPSOS Mori in a similar report back in 2015 – suggesting there has been no progress in the preceding two years. Report here. 

The Royal Society’s report states that machine learning needs to be considered during the next reform of the UK curriculum and calls for the technology to be referenced not just in the teaching of mathematics and computer science, but across areas such as personal, social and health education.

Life changing

“Machine learning will have an increasing impact on our lives and lifestyles over the next five to ten years,” commented professor Peter Donnelly FRS, chair of the report’s working group and Professor of Statistical Science at the University of Oxford

“There is much work to be done so that we take advantage of machine learning’s potential and ensure that the benefits are shared, especially as this could be a key area of opportunity for the UK in the coming years.”

Plan of action

The Royal Society proposed several suggested measures to be taken to help ensure a smoother transition into the so-called ‘AI world’.

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee also reported in October 2016 that educational changes needed to be made to equip the workforce of the future with the necessary skills to function in an AI world.

Proposals from the Royal Society include:

  • Providing a basic understanding of the use of data and machine learning for people of all ages and backgrounds.
  • Introducing key concepts in machine learning as well as some of the key social and ethical issues at school can help cultivate these skills.
  • Ensuring that a wide range of sectors and professions have the absorptive capacity to use machine learning in ways that are useful for them.
  • Adjusting university course provision in disciplines such as law, healthcare, and finance, to introduce machine learning to future professionals across these fields.
  • A new funded programme of Masters courses may also help to increase the number of informed users of machine learning.
  • Further support is needed to build advanced skills in machine learning. There is already high demand for people with advanced skills, and additional resources to increase this talent pool are critically needed. These resources include increasing provision for training PhD students, and creating mechanisms to recruit and retain outstanding research leaders in machine learning in the academic sector

Business

The report also noted that education beyond schools and universities was essential for UK businesses to continue to thrive by future proofing themselves with new technologies. These included:

  • Access to appropriate support that helps them to understand the value of data and machine learning to their operations. Such support includes:
  • Access to talent
  • Advice via government support mechanisms for business.
  • Measures to promote machine learning through the industrial strategy.

Donnelly added that many people are already embracing machine learning in their everyday lives without even knowing it – but insists greater awareness is crucial as the technology advances and impacts other areas of people’s lives.

“Machine learning is already used in many apps and services that we encounter every day. It is used to tag people in our photos, by our phones to interpret voice commands, by internet retailers to make recommendations, and by banks to spot unusual activity on a credit or debit card.

He concluded: However, these current applications only scratch the surface of understanding just how powerful a technology this could be.”

The ‘Machine learning: the power and promise of computers that learn by example’, report can be viewed in full here.

For a more detailed introduction and understanding of what AI is and the benefits it and machine learning can provide, please download our free report, available here 

Article by Michael Garwood and Dan Copping 

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