Southampton City Council AI Scrutiny Panel: Policy Framework Supporting Growth of AI and Data Driven Economy

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On Thursday the 18th of October, the second of six monthly scrutiny inquiry panels discussed the future of work in Southampton, this time focusing upon national, regional and local strategies for adapting to a new industrial revolution.

A summary of the previous panel meeting which considered sectors of work that are vulnerable to automation, and the skills required for emerging career paths, can be found here. The report pack for the second inquiry meeting discussed can also be found here.

The Interim Director for Growth at Southampton City Council, Denise Edghill began the second inquiry panel detailing the Government’s National Industry Strategy which was first published in November 2017. This strategy set out the five foundations for boosting the UK’s productivity, this includes investing in research and innovation. Also, training and educating people in the areas of technology, engineering and maths is necessary to address a skills shortage. Thirdly, housing, digital infrastructure, electric vehicles and transport must be upgraded and invested in. The fourth foundation is the development of partnerships between life sciences, construction, artificial intelligence (AI), the automotive sectors and government. The final foundation involves growing prosperous communities through economic opportunities, well-connected transport networks and qualified teachers.

In the National Industry Strategy, the Government also set out four Grand Challenges which they believe the UK must overcome to become a world leader in the industries of the future. The first of these challenges includes adjusting to and benefiting from a world where technology and biology are becoming increasingly interlinked. The second of these challenges concerns growing the economy cleanly through a reduction in carbon emissions. Thirdly, the mobility of people, goods and services across the rural and urban landscape must be upgraded. Finally, the UK must also adapt to its demographic shift towards an ageing population.

Anne-Marie Mountifield represented and explained the role of the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), of which she is Chief Executive. The Solent LEP encompasses 12 local councils, with partners from businesses, colleges and the Universities implementing the local industrial strategy. It has invested in projects such as the Centre for Cancer Immunology and encourages small businesses to trade on the global stage. Mountifield noted the area’s close proximity to both London and the European mainland, suggesting that the local economy has great potential for growth. For instance, educational attainment and productivity are behind the South East’s averages, therefore leaving room for improvements. Recently proposals for a combined authority including Portsmouth and Southampton were rejected by the Government. When Mountifield was questioned on this topic, she claimed that the area would not be financially disadvantaged and that a dialogue is ongoing concerning devolution.

Tom Barnett who chairs the University of Southampton’s Web Science Institute (WSI) described the new inter-disciplinary academic field of Web Science to the panel. Web Science studies the interaction between technology, users and the behavioural loops between the two. The institute has a start-up fund of £100,000 for pilot projects, allowing local web ideas to go global. The WSI has decided to focus on how virtual infrastructure can be implemented in cities.

To illustrate how the increasing availability of data can have a beneficial impact, Felicity Ridgway, who is Service Lead for Policy, Partnerships and Strategic Planning in Southampton City Council, utilised the example of Southampton’s crime statistics. These figures demonstrated that burglaries rose in Portswood and Bevois. This is due to the wards having high concentrations of students, who brought gadgets with them, but left them in properties with insufficient security. Since this data has been analysed and responded to, this crime has since decreased by 60%. However, whilst data can be used to enhance security; issues of anonymity, cyber attacks and the use of manipulation for political purposes on social media were raised by the panel members.

In response to Councillor Bogle‘s inquiry regarding the opportunities for healthcare brought about by new technologies, Barnett revealed that Academics at the University studying AI are working closely with the Hospital. Councillor McEwing also questioned how technological advancements will impact the vulnerable and elderly, for example, whether increasing independence will simply cause greater levels of loneliness.

Southampton City Council will be holding another Scrutiny Inquiry Panel meeting concerning the ‘Future of Work in Southampton’, on Thursday 22nd November at the Civic Centre. Members of the public are welcome to attend. More information and contact details can be found here.

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