Artificial IntelligenceInnovationResearchScience

Barclays Urges Manufacturing Investment In AI & IoT

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Industry has to invest in ‘fourth industrial revolution’ technologies, despite skill worker shortage, says report

A new report from Barclays has urged the manufacturing industry to urgently invest now in smart technology.

The ‘Barclays Corporate Banking 2017 Manufacturing Report, Intelligent manufacturing: an industrial revolution for the digital age’ report predict that if manufacturers invested in tech such as AI and IoT, it would result in the creation of 101,000 jobs in the next 10 years for this country.

That prediction comes despite warnings from a number of well known figures about the dangers of artificial intelligence and increased automation not only for humanity in general, but also its potential for stealing people’s jobs.

Smart factories, smart factory

Invest Now

However the report apparently provides evidence that this would not be the case. Indeed, it predicts that smart tech would benefit workers by freeing them up to focus on jobs that require a higher skill level.

The report surveyed 500 manufacturing decision makers, and it found that of the manufacturers that have already invested, 32 percent said it freed up staff to concentrate on more highly skilled work.

The challenge instead, the report states, is ensuring that British workers are trained in the needed skills to take up new roles.

But the skills issue cuts both ways as the Barclays report found that one in five (21 percent) said a lack of skilled workers was the reason why they were hesitating to invest.

Despite that, the Barclays report feels that the time is now for UK manufacturing to invest in smart tech and avoid falling behind global competitors.

It cautioned that failure to adopt ‘fourth industrial revolution’ technologies will be a lost opportunity for manufacturers.

The report also revealed that 83 percent of manufacturers are confident about Britain’s ability to compete on an international scale over the next five years.

Two fifths (43 percent) attribute their confidence to ‘fourth industrial revolution’ (4IR) technologies, such as machine learning, sensors and big data, which they believe will boost the productivity of their business.

But it seems that this confidence is not actually translating into real world investment in smart tech, at least not yet.

Watershed Moment

“Of those that have already invested, over half (51 percent) of manufacturers report that the adoption of 4IR technologies has improved productivity, while just under a third (27 percent) are already seeing return on investment,” the report stated. “Yet, there is still resistance to investing in the very latest innovations.

It seems that basic forms of automation, such as robotics, have a high rate of adoption (76 percent), but two fifths (43 percent) of manufacturers are yet to invest in 4IR technologies like artificial intelligence.

“Our research shows that manufacturers see the benefits of this cutting-edge technology, and many have started to match their intentions with investment,” said Mike Rigby, head of manufacturing at Barclays.

“However, we are at a watershed,” Rigby warned. “While the outlay may seem expensive for many at a time of uncertainty, the industry needs to raise its levels of investment in the skills and infrastructure needed to harness these new technologies and keep us more productive than other international manufacturing hubs. Businesses that make the leap will be rewarded.”

AI Threat?

And he pointed out that the global economy is in the process of a fourth industrial revolution at the moment.

“British manufacturing is going through another industrial revolution but confidence alone does not translate into success and benefit,” said Rigby. “With sterling currently weaker and a robust appetite from domestic and international markets for British goods, the industry is in a strong position to take advantage of the opportunities investing in fourth industrial revolution technologies can bring.”

The report predicted 101,000 jobs would be created in the next 10 years if manufacturers invest in smart factory technologies, and textiles and clothing (12.6 percent), pharmaceuticals (8.3 percent), wood, paper and printing (6.9 percent), and fuels (6.7 percent) would benefit the most.

But smart tech does have its criticis.

Professor Stephen Hawking told the BBC in December 2014 that a thinking machine could “redesign itself at an ever-increasing rate” and “supersede” humans, while Telsa boss Elon Musk has called AI “our biggest existential threat”.

Quiz: Put your knowledge of artificial intelligence (AI) to the test.