Artificial intelligence and machine learning are essential to growth in the global digital economy, and the UK has ambitions to lead the way
Maria Bell and Bola Rotibi
Published: 17 Jun 2022
With the UK professing a global digital outlook, its strength in artificial intelligence (AI) reflects its ability to compete confidently on the world stage, so it is important to analyse whether the fundamentals are in place for the UK to go even further and take a leading position.
In April 2022, the Westminster eForum (WEF) held a conference billed as “Next steps for artificial intelligence in the UK – the National AI Strategy, market development, regulatory and ethical frameworks, and priorities for societal benefit”. The WEF, which has no policy agenda of its own, enabled a discussion of the UK government’s AI strategy, with speakers representing the AI Council, industry, research institutes and education.
The National AI Strategy was unveiled in September 2021, six months after the AI Council published its AI roadmap report that outlined 16 recommendations to help develop the UK’s strategic direction for AI. The AI Council, an independent expert committee, has members from industry, the public sector and academia, and works to support the growth of AI in the UK.
The National AI Strategy outlines a 10-year plan that represents a step-change for AI in the UK. It recognises that maximising AI’s potential will increase resilience, productivity, growth and innovation in the private and public sectors. Although the government’s strategy was welcomed by speakers at the WEF, it was clear from discussions that the UK still had more to do to strengthen its position if it is to remain an AI superpower. Several considerations and concerns were highlighted, with skills and education, trust and regulation sitting at the top of people’s minds.
Same old story: addressing the UK skills gap
AI skills are crucial if the UK wants to roll out its strategy quickly, but a recent Microsoft report on UK AI skills showed that British organisations were less likely to be classed as AI pros compared with the global average – 15% versus 23%. It also reported that 17% of UK employees were being re-skilled for AI, compared with 38% globally, raising concerns that the UK faces a skills gap that could leave businesses struggling to keep up with global competitors.
As adoption of AI – according to CCS Insight surveys – looks to increase significantly in the next 12 months, so too will the demand for AI skills. The challenge will be finding and training the talent needed to close this gap. A labour market report by the AI Council showed 100,000 unfilled job postings in AI and data science, with almost 50% of companies saying job applicants lacked the technical skills needed.
Organisations will need to proactively minimise their own talent gaps by providing training to their existing workforce, ensuring they can fully exploit every investment made in digital transformation.
The UK AI Council’s road map concluded that the country needs to scale up its programmes significantly at all levels of education if it is to ensure new entrants to the workforce. But Rokhsana Fiaz, mayor of the London Borough of Newham, claimed that the UK lacks coherent career pathways, professional standards and equitable opportunities for people seeking careers in AI and data.
Local government initiatives are being undertaken in Newham to address the issue, but there is also a call for the country to generate more practical AI skills nationally. A programme involving collaboration between the government, industry leaders in AI and digital training providers, pushed forward using a cloud-native approach, would make it accessible to all in the UK.
Can a sector-based approach lead to AI regulation?
Regulation of AI is vital, and responsibility lies both with those who develop it and those who deploy it. But according to Matt Hervey, head of AI at law firm Gowling WLG, the reality is that there is a lack of people who understand AI, and consequently a shortage of people who can develop regulation.
The UK does have a range of existing legislative frameworks that should mitigate many of the potential harms of AI – such as laws regarding data protection, product liability negligence and fraud – but they lag behind the European Union (EU), where regulations are already being proposed to address AI systems specifically. UK companies doing business in the EU will most likely need to comply with EU law if it is at a higher level than our own.
In this rapidly changing digital technology market, the challenge is always going to be the speed at which developments are made. With a real risk that AI innovation could get ahead of regulators, it is imperative that sensible guard rails are put in place to minimise harm. But also that frameworks are developed to allow the sale of beneficial AI products and services, such as autonomous vehicles.
This points to the UK’s sector-based approach, with an emphasis on industries most likely to drive innovation, such as finance, automotive, transport and healthcare. Because a fundamental part of law and regulation is how the safety of AI systems is assessed, legislation will be very much determined by their specific application in different sectors. This approach could see spill-over effects, such as sector-specific regulations being widened to apply to different industries.
Building trust to promote innovation
Concerns about risk, including ethical risk, are major blocks to AI innovation in industry. Research from the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) claimed that over 25% of medium-to-large businesses identified uncertainty on how to establish ethical governance as a barrier to innovation. The CDEI leads the UK government’s work on enabling trustworthy innovation in data and AI.
Industry cannot innovate without ethical risks being addressed or the development of data governance that fosters public trust. In 2021, the CDEI developed an algorithm transparency standard, helping public sector organisations to provide clear information about the algorithmic tools they use and why they are using them. Currently being piloted, its success could be a big factor in building public trust in data, and subsequently in AI-driven technologies.
The things independent bodies and governments do well
The next big focus for the AI Council is on ambitious programmes that focus on the climate crisis, health, defence and science. AI can be used to massively improve the efficiency of production for everyone, building more-resilient and adaptable energy systems and helping to deliver operations with net-zero emissions. A recent study developed by Microsoft and PwC estimated that AI-powered environmental applications could save up to 4% of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and contribute to 4.4% of GDP.
Such an outcome, while beneficial for the planet, also offers the potential of creating 3.8 million jobs. Lessons learned from the pandemic show AI’s capacity for improving health outcomes for patients and freeing up staff time. The defence industry is seeing more AI companies collaborate with the UK Ministry of Defence, GCHQ and other partners.
It would seem the vital role that the AI Council can offer – apart from ensuring that the government continues to scan the horizon for new opportunities – is in providing the framework that encourages collaboration between academia, business and end-users. Equally important is making sure that the fundamentals are in place, and that systems and processes are properly designed and delivered.
The council, together with the government, is perhaps better placed than private sector industries for gathering the widest array of stakeholders. Getting people working beyond existing boundaries and organisational structures to build new relationships, networks and common languages heralds the strength of such consortia in playing to AI’s problem-solving strengths.
The US and China are racing ahead in delivering large-scale foundational AI models, with the danger of leaving the UK trailing behind if it stays reliant on outdated solutions. Prioritising an innovative and flexible approach, and making the right calls on AI regulation and governance, could carve out a new path between existing and forthcoming regulations from the US, the EU and China.
Partnering for progress
Although the UK government’s strategy has made progress, there is still some way to go. There is a lot of ambitious talk at what still feels like a very early stage of the game, seeming slightly disconnected from what the industry is actually doing. Suppliers from most sectors are already well on their AI journey, building technical tools and developing new solutions to sell.
One question we must ask is why more companies innovating in AI are not represented on the AI Council. If industry is already so entrenched in developing AI solutions, their practical knowledge and services could provide the valuable insights needed to charge forward.
There was a strong feeling during WEF – almost a call to arms – for stakeholders to come together to help promote the UK’s National AI Strategy. We will be watching with increasing interest to see who was listening ahead of the next conference, titled “Adoption of AI technologies”.
Maria Bell is a senior analyst, and Bola Rotibi is a research director, at CCS Insight
Read more on Artificial intelligence, automation and robotics
One of the most irritating (and slightly painful) parts of joining a Microsoft Teams call could soon be fixed by a new update.
The video conferencing service is a popular choice for many companies, meaning calls with large numbers of participants joining at the same time, and from the same location (such as a meeting room) are a common occurrence.
However, often when multiple people join a meeting in the same room, a feedback loop is created, which causes echo, which in most cases quickly escalates to howling – with Microsoft likening the noise to when a musician holds the mic too close to a loudspeaker.
Fortunately, a new fix is coming for Microsoft Teams users. In its entry in the official Microsoft 365 roadmap (opens in new tab), the new “Ultrasound Howling Detection” describes how it aims to prevent this noise for users on Windows and Mac across the world.
Microsoft says that the update should mean if multiple users on laptops join from the same location, it will share with the user that another Teams Device is detected in their vicinity and is already joined with audio to the current meeting.
If a user has already joined with their audio on, Microsoft Teams will automatically mute the mic and speakers of any new the person who then joins the call, hopefully putting an end to the howling and screeching feedback.
Thankfully, the update is already listed as being in development, with an expected general availability date of March 2023, so users shouldn’t have to wait too long to enjoy.
The new updates are the result of using a machine learning model trained on 30,000 hours of speech samples, and include echo cancellation, better adjusting audio in poor acoustic environments, and allowing users to speak and hear at the same time without interruptions.
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Mike Moore is Deputy Editor at TechRadar Pro. He has worked as a B2B and B2C tech journalist for nearly a decade, including at one of the UK’s leading national newspapers and fellow Future title ITProPortal, and when he’s not keeping track of all the latest enterprise and workplace trends, can most likely be found watching, following or taking part in some kind of sport.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods lands in theaters on March 17. (Image credit: Warner Bros.)
The final trailer for Shazam! Fury of the Gods has debuted online – and it looks even more charming, funnier, frenetic, and darker than its predecessor.
Shazam’s sequel flick arrives in theaters worldwide on March 17, so it’s about time we were given another look at the forthcoming DC Extended Universe movie (read our DC movies in order guide to find out where it’ll fit in that timeline). Luckily, Warner Bros. has duly obliged. Check it out below:
Okay, there’s some messy CGI and a slightly corny vibe about Shazam 2. But hey, the first problem can be ironed out before the superhero film takes flight, while the latter is part of what makes this movie series spellbinding (see what we did there?).
But we digress – you’re here because you want to find out what you missed from Shazam! Fury of the Gods‘ new trailer. Below, we’ve pointed out six things you might have overlooked. So, what are you waiting for? Shout “Shazam!” and let’s dive in.
1. Who are the Daughters of Atlas?
For a film centered around Shazam, we don’t actually see the titular superhero appear in the official trailer for the first 20 seconds.
Instead, we get another glimpse at Fury of the Gods‘ villains, aka the Daughters of Atlas. The powerful trio comprises the power-hungry Hespera (Helen Millen), dragon-riding Kalypso (Lucy Liu), and Athena (Rachel Zegler), the latter of whom seems particularly torn about how the sisters are going about their business.
So, why are they gunning for Shazam and his superpowered foster siblings? Essentially, when Billy Batson was gifted his abilities by Djimon Hounsou’s wizard in the film film (available now on HBO Max), one of those powers was the Stamina of Atlas. The Daughters of Atlas aren’t too happy about their father’s ability being passed down to a child, so they want to take back what is theirs – and they’ll do it so by any means necessary.
2. Mythological monsters
Shazam’s first DCEU outing featured some horror-imbued creatures in the form of the Seven Deadly Sins. How, then, do you go about topping (or, at the very least) matching what came before? Throw in a bunch of myth-based monsters, of course.
Kalypso’s imposing dragon is the most notable inclusion. It feature prominently throughout the trailer, and we even get an amusing Game of Thrones reference from Shazam – “Hey, Khaleesi!” – in the movie. Hey, Warner Bros. loves to mention its suite of IPs in as many of its films as possible.
But Kalypso’s wyvern isn’t the only fairy-tale-based beast we see. Minotaurs, griffons, and demonic unicorns are just three of the other monsters who’ll turn up in Fury of the Gods. Basically, don’t expect this to be an easy fight for Shazam and company to save the world.
3. You can’t get the staff these days
Saving earth from a new titanic threat will be even harder when Shazam’s adoptive family are stripped of their powers, too. And it seems that the staff, which was wielded by Hounsou’s wizard in the first movie, is the key to giving and taking those abilities away.
In 2019’s Shazam!, the titular hero gave powers to his foster siblings to help him combat the Seven Deadly Sins and Doctor Sivana. They’ve still got those power in Fury of the Gods, too, but they won’t have them for long, based by what the trailer suggests.
The footage shows Freddy Freeman and Mary Bromfield being drained of their abilities by the Daughters of Atlas at various points. The trio are using the wizard’s staff to rob the teens of their powers, so it’s clearly of major importance to the movie’s main players.
Later, we see Shazam wielding it – not before he asks the wizard to take his powers back, mind you, when he becomes convinced he can’t defeat the Daughters of Atlas. Anyway, Shazam’s brandishing of the staff suggests he needs it to boost his own abilities if he’s going to defeat the movie’s antagonists and give his siblings their powers back. Expect the staff to play a vital role in Fury of the Gods‘ plot, then.
4. Prison break
In order to get the wizard’s staff, it seems the Daughters of Atlas go after Hounsou’s magic wielder to obtain it.
We see Hounsou’s character imprisoned at various points, including a shot of Hespera chastising him for giving the power of the gods to Billy, Freddy, and company. “You ripped it from our father’s core,” she tells him, which implies Hounsou’s wizard might not be as mighty and heroic as we were led to believe.
Anyway, Hounsou’s wizard interacts with Shazam later in the trailer, so he clearly escapes captivity. Whether he does so alone, or he enlists Shazam’s help – does that magic-infused dust, which he sends through his prison cell window, have something to do with it? – is unclear. Regardless, we’ll see Hounsou’s character break out at some stage.
5. Is that you, Doctor Strange?
Remember when we said Zegler’s Athena doesn’t seem as keen to destroy earth as her sisters? That’s because, at the 1: 14 mark, we see her use her powers with a uncertain look on her face. You wouldn’t look like that if you were convinced you were doing the right thing, would you?
Based on the fact she’s pushed away by Kalypso (using the staff no less), seconds later, it seems she’ll be swapping sides at some stage.
Interestingly, it seems the wizard’s staff can do more than give or take a person’s powers away. One perceived ability certainly has an air of the Doctor Strange/Marvel-based mystic arts about them. Just look at the Escher-style nature of how the scenery bends and folds in on itself when Athena is pushed back, and when Shazam evades numerous buildings at the 1: 44 mark. We’d be very surprised if DC and Warner Bros. didn’t take a leaf out of the MCU’s book with such an aesthetic.
6. Light the way
Shazam and his fellow superheroes get a costume upgrade in Fury of the Gods. The group’s threads are more streamlined and less plastic-looking this time around, which is pleasing to see.
Fans had been worried, though, that these suits wouldn’t feature one of the first movie’s most underrated (if somewhat tacky) aspects: the glowing lightning bolt on Shazam’s chest. Shazam’s costume in the 2019 movie was manufactured in a way that allowed the bolt to physically light up, avoiding the problem of having to add awkward lighting effects during the post-production phase.
Thankfully, Shazam! Fury of the Gods‘ official trailer confirms that Shazam’s lightning bolt will glow. However, given the sleeker look of the costumes this time around, it appears that the illumination effect has been added in post. Regardless of how it’s been implemented, we’re just glad it’s a feature that’s been retained.
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Jokes aside about Chrome’s incognito mode, the ability to open a private tab for sensitive browsing is incredibly useful. You can perform searches that you want to keep from affecting your recommendations or appearing in your search history—which applies as much to tax information and medical questions as anything more scintillating.
And now on all phones and tablets, you can protect your incognito tabs from prying eyes by locking them down. A quick tweak to Chrome settings on iOS and Android makes biometric or PIN authentication required to view your private tabs whenever you leave the app and then return. It’s an extra layer of protection for when you forget to close a tab when you’re done—easy to do if you’re constantly hopping between apps. No need to worry about banking info sitting unguarded, for example.
Trying to feature out for yourself is easy. If it’s rolled out to your Android device (or if you’re only now trying it on your iPhone or iPad), just tap on the three dot menu in Chrome, then Privacy and Security. Toggle on Lock Incognito Tabs When You Close Chrome. Now when you switch away from Chrome and then come back, you’ll have to pass an authentication check before you can see and interact with those private tabs again.
For folks who use incognito tabs more on mobile than dedicated apps, this feature is a very welcome addition—and one I hope to see come to desktop computers next. I leave my incognito windows open on PC for long stretches way more often than on a phone or tablet. I haven’t yet met a browser window stuffed with tabs that I didn’t like to keep around. And sometimes I’m reading up on something I don’t want roommates to know about; other times, I have private correspondence I’m working on that I really don’t want to be seen.
I can always lock my PC, but I occasionally forget to slam my fingers on Win + L before dashing off to deal with an overflowing pot or vomiting cat. The best alternative is setting up Dynamic Lock in Windows, but that only works if you move far enough away from your computer to trigger the auto-lock. It unfortunately doesn’t prevent someone also in your kitchen from wandering by your screen and teasing you about your recent discovery of r/illegallysmolcats. Ask me how I know.
Alaina Yee is PCWorld’s resident bargain hunter—when she’s not covering PC building, computer components, mini-PCs, and more, she’s scouring for the best tech deals. Previously her work has appeared in PC Gamer, IGN, Maximum PC, and Official Xbox Magazine. You can find her on Twitter at @morphingball.