The evolving world of AI is full of exciting opportunities, as well as concerning ethical dilemmas. We spoke to Kay Firth-Butterfield (pictured), who is listed among the best AI Speakers in 2023, to hear her thoughts on the topic. As the Executive Director of the Centre for Trustworthy Technology and a Judge for the Ministry of Justice, Kay has committed her career to the technology and legal sectors. In our insightful interview with Kay Firth-Butterfield, learn more about ethical AI, digital transformation and the future of technology.

How can businesses successfully use AI in their business?

“That’s a huge question because there are so many ways AI can be used in business. But I’d say to use it successfully, you need to be very aware of the responsible or trustworthy aspects of artificial intelligence. 

“You shouldn’t deploy AI, or if you’re creating it yourself, design and develop it, without keeping ethics in mind. We call it responsible or trustworthy AI now because those factors might affect successful deployment if you don’t get it right.  

“There’s the possibility of serious damage to a company, not just brand or customer loss, but financial loss too. More and more regulators are starting to sue those using AI irresponsibly or without trust built in. No one wants to be seen as untrustworthy with AI, it’s not a good look.

“Where to deploy AI? Some common uses are in human resources, to help with talent spotting. But there are big problems with using AI in HR because it can bring in human biases. We’re seeing some lawsuits in the US where companies unwisely bought AI for HR, and are being sued for using discriminatory tech. You have to be really careful; it’s a balance between AI’s benefits and thoroughly thinking through buying and deploying these systems.

“Other AI business uses? Manufacturing companies across factory floors; drug companies to help design pharmaceuticals. For example, DeepMind’s AlphaFold enabled big advances in using AI for biological work. There’s generative AI, which everyone’s talking about. You could use it in business but be really aware that if you use models like ChatGPT, the data you feed it goes in and could come out anywhere. Don’t give it trade secrets. We saw a confidential Samsung memo get leaked globally when an employee had ChatGPT transcribe it. 

“So, if you’re using generative AI in business, understand what AI is. It just predicts the next word, it’s not actually intelligent. So, let teams play with it after your legal department green lights it, and your C-suite understands AI and how you use it, with guidelines from your CTO or CIO.”

What advice would you give to businesses looking to digitally transform their organisation? 

“Let’s start with the most important thing when you’re thinking about digital transformation, and that’s data. So, first of all, you can’t digitally transform, you can’t begin to use artificial intelligence, without data, and it’s not any old data. You have to get your data into machine readable form. One of the problems that we have when we talk to these companies is that all their data is on paper. You have to have digital data, then you have to clean your data and prepare it to enable a machine to be run on it.

“It’s only when you get there that you can even contemplate using artificial intelligence. The other question about data is, do you want your data to be created by human beings, or do you want your data to be synthetic data? There’s a big difference between the two in what you can get out of it and how you use them. So again, data is your very first step.

“There’s going to be a law around AI in Europe – if you trade with Europe, you’ll have to comply. There are also old laws that can challenge unwise AI use. So, think not just about AI applications, but also risks, compliance, law in the transition. Involve the Chief Strategy Officer too – where is this digital transformation going? What do you want to achieve from it?

“Have a true AI strategy for your goals; that’s an important part of digital transformation. I’d say if you’re B2B, there is less risk. But B2C means considering customer data use. Lots of factors, but start with good data, then consider AI. Make it a team effort across leadership to decide if it’s the right tool [for your digital transformation].”

Why is it important to make use of the latest technologies?

“I think it’s important to make use of the latest technologies, in the same way that Kodak should have noticed there was a change coming in the photography industry. Businesses that don’t at least look at digital transformation are going to find themselves on the back foot. 

“But a word of caution here: you can also go hell for leather and find that you have the wrong AI or the wrong systems for your business. I would say that it’s really important to practice caution, keep your eyes open and think about this as a business decision every step of the way. 

“It’s particularly important when you decide that yes, you’re ready to use artificial intelligence to, I would say, hold your suppliers’ feet to the fire, ask the right questions, ask detailed questions. Make sure you have somebody in house or a consultant that will enable you to ask the right questions. Because, as we all know, one of the greatest wastes of money in digital transformation is if you don’t ask the right questions and do it correctly.”

This interview with Kay Firth-Butterfield was conducted by Roxanna Hayes