A host of companies across the UK are beginning to use machine learning to capture and analyse human emotions (Telegraph, £). With examples of AI already being used to collate data around people’s shopping habits, this might seem like the natural next step in the AI evolution.
London-based start-up RealEyes which raised millions in funding has developed technology capable of tracking people’s emotional reactions and attention to marketing content. Using vast amounts of video content they were able to study various facial expressions and then label with an appropriate emotion, from which the AI could ‘learn’. It doesn’t stop there as the company holds long-term ambitions to use its technology to support wellbeing apps.
A second UK based company, We are Human, is using AI to decipher sublime facial expression into characteristics traits, helping clients detect financial fraud, understand customer behaviour and recruit candidates with personality fit. We are looking at a future where our behaviour could soon be tracked and interpreted by machines to provide enhanced convenience and personalisation, and even prevent crime.
However, there are concerns over privacy with critics saying emotional tracking could put people at risk of manipulation and data exploitation. Given the already swirling controversy surrounding facial recognition, people will be far more apprehensive before consenting to an emotion analysis based on their facial expressions.
Scotland Yard warned over using facial recognition cameras
The Mayor of London’s ethics panel has called on the Metropolitan Police to cease using facial recognition cameras until it has strict guidelines in place and the technology eliminates the risk of racial bias. In a report produced by the panel, it recommended that as long as the technology could generate gender or racial bias in policing operations it should not be used.
BEIS and DCMS were proud to herald the one year anniversary of the launch of the AI sector deal this week. With the lofty goal of making the UK the leading destination for AI innovation and investment, it’s a good time to examine progress to date.
Cynics may criticise some of the causal inference used in the rosy picture of how the UK outstrips European competitors, but even anecdotally there has been praise for the Government’s efforts in supporting industry and R&D in the AI space as part of the sector deal.
It is early stages and the fruits of endeavours like the AI skills and talent package (just three months old) will not be seen overnight.
However, there are areas where it looks like we could be more fleet of foot. It might be disappointing for some to learn, for instance, that the AI Council has yet to even meet.
Liam Fox MP champions UK digital economy at Paris meeting
In a speech to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) conference held in Paris, UK International Trade Secretary Liam Fox MP hailed the UK’s efforts in becoming a world-leading digital hub. He cited the $1.3 billion AI firms raised which almost equalled the amount raised by the rest of Europe.
Housing associations have recently come under fire following the revelation that many have been refusing to house homeless people on the grounds that they are too much of a financial risk. This of course causes great reputational damage to the sector as it arguably goes against their founding social mission – to house the poorest and most vulnerable in society. However, it is not just organisations with a founding social purpose that are damaged by a failure to deliver overt social value.
Whilst social value has always been an important feature of an organisation’s corporate reputation, in recent years its importance has ballooned. It is no longer a nice-to-have or merely just a factor amongst others, but rather one that influences everything else: everyday service delivery; financial responsibility; and governance and accountability.
The dynamics shifted so much, in fact, that if you do not demonstrate social value, your overall reputation is negatively impacted. The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer points to this change, highlighting an expectation amongst employees that their employers effect a wider societal impact.
Social value is a contested concept, but it can be broadly understood to mean maximising outcomes that support the public good in the areas in which an organisation resides or impacts. The wooliness and variability of the term is one of the bigger challenges to wider spread adoption but the benefits of such an agenda are clear.
Such benefits include the strengthening of relationships with local stakeholders to better meet local needs. This could be through the creation of employment programmes, supporting local business or contributing towards health and wellbeing initiatives. These benefits work both ways with the local community having its needs met and the organisation getting the buy-in and continued license to operate by its local stakeholders.
So why has the significance of social value increased so markedly in recent times?
Societal trends and failures, for one, play a huge part in this. Currently 1 in 5 people in the UK are living in relative poverty and by 2022 1.5 million more children are projected to be living in poverty. Additionally, we face a number of health-related issues (such as poor air quality) and social problems (such as social isolation in an ageing population). There is a debate to be had around accountability for these issues but ultimately businesses are being looked at as part of the solution in the current political climate – especially in the context of austerity, with local governments being too stretched to address these issues alone. Businesses have opportunity to help tackle these challenges and in doing so build more credible and sustainable reputations.
The Social Value Act (2012) has started this trend, through government contracting. It requires the consideration of economic, social and environmental wellbeing in the evaluation and contracting of public sector services. This means that in some cases, as much as 20% weighting is given to social value in procurement evaluations. For organisations looking to win such contracts, social value not only affects reputation but it also direct effects their ability to operate.
Cultural factors have also played their part with a recent Deloitte survey showing that millennials are increasingly less trustful of multinational organisations to be anything other than corporate moneymaking machines. Increasingly, employees want to feel that their work is making a real positive contribution to society. Employers must therefore demonstrate that they have a credible social purpose in order to attract and retain the best talent.
Ultimately, doing nothing to demonstrate social value will result in reputational decline and therefore moving backwards as an organisation. To avoid this, organisations must be proactive in demonstrating the impact that they have in the communities they serve. Social value should no longer be looked at as a deliverable but rather a core part of why you exist as an organisation.
Amidst all the talk of the UK about the AI developing as a beacon of ethical AI deployment, there’s always the underlying suspicion that big U.S. tech firms and the Chinese Government are going to do as they please while we sit around drinking tea and equivocating over tricky things like ethics.
However, people get understandably anxious to read that Amazon has introduced an AI system that both issues warnings and draws up termination paperwork – courtesy here of Mark Bridge in The Times, and originally reported by The Verge’s Colin Lecher, here.
Some will argue that machines are likely to apply a fairer system to terminations, removing personal vendetta and implicit bias. However, we have seen in the past how this argument can be problematic with Amazon itself! Others will worry about such a clear example of where machines are fundamentally deciding people’s future by removing their livelihood.
From a comms perspective, Amazon’s response played up the fact that terminations were falling over the last couple of years. That in no way addresses the rights and wrongs in using AI programmes to make termination decisions. Perhaps this is a conscious effort not to get sucked into a thorny debate, but it could also come across as a somewhat high-handed assumption that there are no ethical questions at play here with the use of AI. It is time big tech addressed AI ethics more proactively in their comms.
The Road to Zero Strategy was launched by the UK government in July 2018. This outlines how the government plans to achieve its ambitious goal – by 2040, all newly registered cars will be ultra-low emission (hybrid and battery electric vehicles). Between January 2018 and January 2019 we have seen an impressive 110% increase in electric vehicle (EV) registrations. Despite this, EVs only make up 0.7% of newly registered cars. The question therefore remains – is consumer demand for EVs and ultra-low emission cars rising fast enough to meet the government target?
To understand the trend in rising demand for EVs, firstly, one has to look at the increased public and private efforts to make EV charging part of consumers’ everyday lives. As we discussed in a previous blog, the availability of charging opportunities or ‘range anxiety’ is a key concern for consumers. Two recent developments in England address this fear:
1. Improvements in charging infrastructure:
Funding to improve coverage: In London multiple funding opportunities are available to boroughs to increase their local charging network, and a number of boroughs have ambitious goals. Westminster aims to increase its network by 25% and Wandsworth wants to build 400 charging plugs in summer 2019.
Faster charging:Pivot Power works together with National Grid to extend the existing charging network across the UK by developing 45 fast charging sites close to towns and major roads.
Cheaper and easier access: The scheme Plugged-In Midlands was developed to enable members to have mostly free access to charging stations across the Midlands with one card. The geographic reach has now been extended, giving members access to charging at over 5,000 locations across the UK.
2. Integrating EVs into everyday lives:
Charging when going shopping:Volkswagen, Tesco and Pod Point announced that they will be developing the UK’s largest retail electric vehicle charging network, including 2,400 electric vehicle charging bays spread across 600 Tesco stores. This initiative allows individuals to charge their EVs whilst going out shopping, one step towards producing a ‘hassle free’ experience in owning an EV vs. a traditional petrol / diesel car
Charging at work: IKEA went further and not only provide charging points for their customers, but also their employees. This predominantly free service was introduced together with Ecotricity.
Infrastructure around charging hubs: More recently, the power infrastructure company Gridserve has released their plans to develop more than 100 ‘electric forecourts’. Developing infrastructures with cafes, supermarkets and airport-style lounges around charging points, which will make the experience of charging more accessible and pleasant.
Making charging more accessible through combined public and private sector efforts may help explain the current trends of increasing EV registrations – but is this enough to reach the government’s target? Looking at current data to predict future EV registration numbers, we have calculated four different potential growth models, illustrated below. Current growth trends in the UK are following a simple linear growth of 0.5% increase in registration numbers. If this trend continues, it will be unlikely that we meet the UK target. Instead, accelerated growth rates are needed. Based on historical development of other technologies it is unlikely that registration numbers will result in exponential growth. Therefore, it is more likely that EV registration numbers will rise in form of an S curve. For this to happen, however, growth rates have to accelerate soon.
Overall, we observe that more people are purchasing EVs, but the share of EVs on the road remains very small. While improving the scale, performance and integration of charging infrastructure into everyday life is a move in the right direction, it is only a small step towards the government’s 2040 goal. To stimulate the market at a more accelerated rate, more infrastructure investment, political incentives and supply-side actions are needed.
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