AI & Digital Automation

The Rise of AI: Dorset businesses share hopes and fears

(L-R) Alan Lindstrom, Caroline Onslow-Bartlett, David Burnet, Sam Pither, William Law, Casidhe Baleri, Lewis Barr, Paul Taylor, Sam Fraser, Paul Tansey, Nick Carlile, Matt Williams

By Sam Pither [email protected]

Published: February 13, 2024 | Updated: 13th February 2024

Artificial intelligence (AI) is advancing rapidly, bringing opportunities as well as risks. How are businesses in Dorset navigating this new technology? What benefits are they seeing, and what concerns still linger?

To find out, Dorset Biz News brought together a range of business leaders from the area for a roundtable on AI. The wide-ranging discussion revealed they are actively embracing AI’s potential to drive efficiency and growth, while also proceeding thoughtfully given the technology’s disruptive powers.

The attendees were:

The Discussion in a snapshot

  • AI is being used for diverse applications like content creation, data analysis, automation, and fraud detection. Businesses are actively exploring how to harness its potential.
  • Participants emphasized the need for governance and guardrails to manage risks around security, ethics, and job losses. Human oversight remains essential.
  • Opinions differed on AI’s impact on jobs. Some foresee transformations, others job losses. Adaptability and retraining may be necessary.
  • AI presents opportunities in areas like education to personalize services and close achievement gaps.
  • Businesses agree AI adoption is accelerating. A strategic yet measured approach is needed to implement it responsibly.

Content Creation to Fraud Detection

Participants described diverse uses of AI across their organizations, with common themes including data analysis, process automation, call centre chat bots and automating the production of local radio news using cloned voices.

Nick Carlile, Lifestyle Clarity

Nick Carlile said: “The potential for AI goes beyond just ChatGPT. While I’m not knocking it, it’s like the engine but without the wheels, seat and gearbox.

“It’s the tools being developed, including both ours and Paul Tansey’s, that will take this amazing technology and put it into an application that businesses can actually use on a day-to-day basis.

“There’s an abundance of call centres in Dorset. The cost of running those is quite excessive. We’re now putting AI into that application which allows us to have thousands of conversations.

“In the roughly nine months we’ve been deploying AI we’ve seen a massive shift from clients wanting us to try and convince their customers it’s a human to a point that they don’t care. Instead of sitting on hold for 20 minutes, people would rather get their answer efficiently in two minutes.

“A person in a call centre can only take one at a time, an AI can take 10,000.”

Caroline Onslow-Bartlett explained how seriously Enhanced are taking AI: “We are a Microsoft Partner, so by the very nature of what we do we have to be early adopters and ahead of the game when it comes to tech.

“AI is very much at the forefront of our vision, while also staying within the realms of the Microsoft environment.

“Microsoft’s Copilot syncs all the Office 365 applications, offering unbelievable efficiencies in the right hands. For example, if you’re late to a Teams call, you could ask for a bullet point breakdown of everything you’ve missed in the discussion as well as requesting the current tone of the meeting!”

Paul Taylor, Dorset Chamber

Paul Taylor recognised a polarisation in views from the businesses he speaks to: “A lot are embracing it but a lot are afraid of it – it seems to be one way or the other at the moment.”

This would be a reoccurring theme throughout the discussion, with participants regularly pointing to both the positives and negatives of AI.

Matt Williams explained: “AI has the potential to cause some nervousness in the insurance industry.

“We insure all sorts of media publishing companies where the media that’s published is seen by a person. Insuring a company for libel and slander when the content is driven by AI is a completely different kettle of fish.”

Guardrails Needed

One common theme in the discussion was a recognition that AI may pose as many risks as it does opportunities, with anxieties surrounding data protection and accuracy noted by a number of participants.

While portraying AI as a powerful tool, participants emphasised the need to establish guardrails in how it is deployed.

Casidhe Baleri, Saffery

Casidhe Baleri said: “We’re open to using it – it’s just making sure we’re using it in the right way.

“We’ve built our industry on talking to people and advising. AI can do some things, such as data processing for tax returns, but when it comes to auditing there’s a judgement which needs to be made.

“Instead, we’re using tools which can make processing the data easier. Reviewing a set of accounts used to take three hours if it was done manually, now you can run it through software in 15 minutes.

“You still have to do some sense checks to it but that’s an instant saving of time.”

Lewis Barr continued the discussion on the need for sense checking and human oversight, drawing on widely reported cases of AI being misused in the legal field to note risks on an over-reliance in AI in its current form.

Lewis Barr, Frettens

“There was a case which went to trial in America with two lawyers who brought out six or seven precedents that just didn’t exist. It was only when the other side flagged it they realised the AI had completely made it up,” he explained.

“It made everyone’s ears prick up and recognise a potential danger. But ultimately it comes down to the policies you have within your organisation – is there a break point bringing in the human element to check? Do you have a policy in place for what it can be used for?

“At the moment none of our lawyers use AI for drafting documents. We have enough of our own IP to not have to do that – it’s very much a watching brief.”

Cybersecurity

This idea of human oversight and breakpoints was recognised by a number of participants while discussing the possibility of new types of scams and fraud.

Caroline said: “You no longer need human intervention to generate the next flavour of virus.

Caroline Onslow-Bartlett, Enhanced

“We’re now looking at a virus being blocked, stopped and then reinventing itself within a millisecond. Will we maintain the ability to completely track and eliminate AI Enhanced cyber-attacks?”

Along with a new generation of computer viruses, attendees noted that AI can strengthen fraudsters’ ability to impersonate company directors and looked at how that might be counteracted.

Paul Tansey said: “I think we’re going to go back to multi-factor authentication. If my financial director receives any kind of communication about transferring money, we have questions in place to verify it’s actually me.”

Matt Williams, Gallagher

Matt supported this, noting: “It’s becoming very difficult to obtain Cyber insurance in the UK without multifactor authentication.”

Alan Lindstrom added: “It’s about the action on the other side. So what do you do when you receive an invoice and the payment details are different to what you have on file, how are you verifying that information?”

David Burnett said: “What you’ve got there is essentially a logic problem – we call it a break point. So we’ve got AI, but there needs to be a human inspector, or break point, that can say, ‘actually there’s something wrong here’.

Job Losses or Transformation?

The effect of AI on employment sparked careful debate.

A number of participants spoke positively about how many roles may change with the introduction of AI, with employees freed up to undertake more engaging and meaningful work.

Nick noted how they had introduced AI to a company in the United States which processes applications for study from foreign students.

“We’ve replaced the three people they used to have answering traffic on their website with AI which can respond to them in the language they use,” he explained.

Paul Tansey, The Intergage Group

“It will answer their questions and take them to a point where a person will pick them up. We’ve done similar on Instagram.

“And we’re not replacing the jobs, the people that were sat there typing away are now doing better jobs and working more effectively.”

David added: “I think it’s important to educate businesses on this. You’ve taken people that are struggling to do a quantified job and you’ve reframed them to almost take on a more humanized and meaningful job.”

Paul Tansey took a more cautious approach, saying: “That all sounds really positive, and I like being positive. But it would be naïve to think it won’t take away anyone’s job – of course it will.

“There’s a reason Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI is investing in technology which is gearing up for Universal Basic Income.

“When it stops hallucinating I think we’re going to be in a place where this will change society. A lot of people think we’re headed for Universal Basic Income.”

David Burnet, Invidar

Alan supported this, saying: “We live in a capitalistic environment. If your role can be replaced by AI, and you cannot add value to a company from another position, then unfortunately as the company reviews its performance, it will see a cost saving.”

Others described how AI may transform rather than eliminate roles. David Burnett said, “It is going to take some jobs away, and it’s going to change some jobs, too. A lot of people are going to reskill and learn prompt engineering, changing what they do.”

Casidhe explained that the technology is placing a new emphasis on adaptability when hiring new employees: “All of our interviews with school leavers or graduates will mention AI at some point to see what their exposure and their experience is, because they’ve probably used it more than I have. So their ideas on how we can best use it are valuable.”

A common theme throughout the discussion was education, with participants recognising its role in both getting the best out of the opportunities that AI brings, as well as counteracting its risks.

Education

Sam Fraser, Aspirations Academies Trust

In the field of education itself, Sam Fraser from Aspirations Academies Trust noted the potential for AI to make education more accessible to those with special educational needs, but also spoke on the need for a public conversation in order to tap into these opportunities.

She said: “The tools are there to close the gap which exists for children with learning differences. It’s about educating the public and parents who will usually refer back to their own experiences and as such don’t understand enough about AI and its potential to serve their children.

“I think education, ironically, is always behind the curve on these sorts of things. Potentially, the opportunities for AI to change how we deliver education are enormous and I think we as a sector should be having those conversations.”

Measured Implementation

One reoccurring theme of the discussion was the idea that the advent of AI was inevitable, with participants generally agreeing that the debate should be framed around how businesses work with it rather than if businesses work with it.

Nick said: “I think the ship has sailed on AI. People and businesses that use AI will just overtake those that don’t.”

Alan Lindstrom, The Business Magazine Group

Alan summarised: “A lot of the focus has been on the positives and the negatives. I think a lot of it comes down to understanding and adapting to a very fast pace of change.

“The business world and business leaders need to understand what is possible and how can we implement it while also making sure we’re protected from it.

“Because if we don’t, people might take it on their own accord and use it, and therefore we put ourselves at risk.”

Paul Tansey added: “ChatGPT is like having the most amazing college graduate ever, one that knows more than any other human in the history of the world.

“However, every now and again it nips off to the loo, takes magic mushrooms and starts making things up with complete confidence and sounds really credible. It’s brilliant, but it takes drugs.”

Andrew Diprose used his experience with AI to back up this point on the need for human oversight.

William Law, Barclays Corporate Banking

Explaining how Bournemouth One uses AI voices to read the news, and recognising how this gives the radio station the ability to appear bigger than the number of people actually working behind the scenes, he said: “it’s always the humans putting the information in. I think this is the key difference. The humans are putting the information in, but then AI is assisting us.

“One thing it really does is lower the barriers to entry. The number of people and financial resources needed to run Bournemouth One is significantly lower than it would have been in previous years.”

Alan concluded: “Currently, you still need the individuals with knowledge in the sector to verify and vet what it generates and not just rely on it wholesale.”

***

By bringing industry leaders together, the roundtable allowed Dorset businesses to learn from each other as they navigate the rise of artificial intelligence.

Key insights included taking a strategic yet measured approach, establishing guardrails, and recognizing that while some jobs may be lost to automation, others can be transformed, and employees upskilled. AI’s benefits may be vast, but responsible oversight and governance are essential.

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