Home Economy British businesses ‘missing out on AI revolution’ finds new university backed research

British businesses ‘missing out on AI revolution’ finds new university backed research

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Businesses are failing to adopt new artificial intelligence technologies, research from the universities of Leeds, Sussex and Cambridge shows.

Despite the high profile of technologies such as generative AI, the proportion of British organisations saying that they have taken the plunge remains in the low double digits.

In a sample of 1,150 employers asked by researchers if they had invested in AI-enabled technology in the past 12 months, only 11 per cent said they had. Larger organisations, particularly those in the IT and public administration sectors, were more likely to have invested, with smaller businesses less so.

The findings build on the same study made in 2022, when 2,001 companies were questioned and 36 per cent said they had invested in AI-enabled technologies such as industrial robots, chatbots, smart assistants and cloud computing over the past five years.

Mark Stuart, pro dean for research and innovation at Leeds University Business School, which led the research, said there was no evidence yet of a technological revolution gripping British businesses. “If you ask people, they are experimenting individually, but if you ask them whether they are doing it strategically and embedding AI [in their companies], they are not,” he said.

Of the companies that had invested in AI, just under a third had spent money on generative AI services such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT. It means that only about 3 per cent of UK employers have invested strategically in generative AI, according to the researchers.

Most worrying for policymakers is the emergence of a digital divide between the minority of early adopters that say they are continuing to invest and the majority of companies that remain unconvinced of the merits of even beginning to do so.

Of the employers polled in 2023, 11 per cent of those that had not already invested in AI-enabled technologies were planning to invest in the next two years, up from 10 per cent of those interviewed in 2022.

The research also highlighted a continued gap in digital skills training, with 40 per cent of the companies reporting that they had provided such training in the past two years. Fewer than 10 per cent of the companies expected to invest in such training this year.

The Employers’ Digital Practices at Work survey was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

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