Sia Partners UK Digital Series: Artificial Intelligence – A Threat To Our Existence?

The Artificial Intelligence (AI) & the Digital Phenomenon was a key topic for discussion at the recent World Economic Forum (WEF) Middle East and North Africa Conference that took place in Jordan from 19th – 21st May. The conference was themed on ‘Enabling a Generational Transformation’ and bought together the foremost business, government and civil society leaders. Together, with my colleague (Head of our Middle East office) we represented Sia Partners, and were delighted to be part of this conversation and stimulating debates.


When Stephen Hawking, one of Britain’s pre-eminent scientists, said that efforts to create thinking machines pose a threat to our very existence – the world listened. In 2014 he told the BBC “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” His warning came in response to a question about a revamp of the technology he uses to communicate, which involves a basic form of Artificial Intelligence.

AI, however is not what it was portrayed to be when I was growing up on TV (mainly robots!) but in fact is anything from Instagram’s hashtag algorithms, Googles search engine, automated technology that greets us at Heathrow T5  (what happened to all those people and all those jobs right?), SIRI to self-driving cars. In fact AI is progressing rapidly. So rapidly that the language we were hearing at the World Economic Forum (WEF) was – Man, Woman, Machine.

And so it seems although the AI right now perform deep but still somewhat narrow tasks, the future of AI will take us to a landscape that’s not only deep but broad. In fact, in the future, AI will be so sophisticated it will outperform humans at every cognitive task.


An Oxford University survey suggests that 47% of all jobs will be at risk in the coming decades.

Research into this field shows that in 10 years time, we will see the following phenomenon:

  1. Mobile Super Computing will be pervasive (due to the overwhelming research and investment into AI and Digital)
  2. Hundreds of millions (could even go to a billion) of people will be unemployed due to AI
  3. Many of these unemployed people will be educated – as the investment and focus on education has increased dramatically over the last 20 years

So what is happening here? Are we educating millions and millions of people (including my own children who I am paying for to go through expensive private education) for jobs that will not exist?

Maybe, but I feel much less gloomy about AI’s prospects.

The issue it seems is not AI but the fact that the majority of the data that powers AI is being controlled by a Monopoly made of Five (well known!) companies – the  FAGMA  (Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Amazon) which have an average market cap of $497 billion.


These five companies together spend $60 billion pa on areas of innovation including data, digital and AI. By comparison the US government spends $1 billion pa.

To have a positive impact on the world, AI data needs to be made available to the world and not just to aid the bottom line of these companies. This will be the role of the legislators in the future. And this is where the role of government becomes positive and key.

80% of household income gets spent on four utility items – Food, Healthcare, Education and Housing. Technology, AI and Big Data can play a big role in enabling and bringing faster development in those areas.

Take Education for example, AI could be used to provide our children with one-to-one tutoring and improve their learning. By tracking their learning, gathering data, making targeted intervention over a long period of time – would no doubt reduce stress and increase performance of our children. One to one tutoring has long been thought of to be the most effective approach to learning which before AI was too expensive to be able to provide for all students. This learning would radically transform education and how it’s delivered but it requires funding and funding needs to be released.

So I feel very excited about the future and the role of AI in our society. Humanity has survived for thousands of years through famines and floods and wars. We are clever and determined enough to survive this wave and control AI for greater needs of our society. I believe we will remain in charge of the technology for a long time and we will use the data, AI and digital information to solve many of the worlds problems that exist today.