UK Businesses ‘Falling Behind Europe’ On AI Adoption

The UK is falling behind other major European economies in businesses’ adoption of artificial intelligence, a new study has found, with companies citing a lack of skills as their main barrier.

About one-third of British firms said they had accelerated their use of AI over the past two years, compared to the European average of 49 percent, found IBM’s Global AI Adoption Index.

During the same period more than one-third, or 36 percent, stalled their use of AI investment over the same period, compared to 27 percent across Europe.

Italian and Spanish companies were at the top of the list, with 57 percent and 56 percent respectively saying they had increased their use of AI during the past two years.

Skills gap

France and Germany were also high on the list, with 49 percent and 46 percent.

The skills gap was the top factor cited by British firms, at 38 percent, found the study, carried out by Morning Consult in April.

A lack of skills was cited by only 28 percent across Europe and only 24 percent in France – which has a significant AI skills base due in part to its top rankings in mathematics.

A different IBM study from earlier this year found UK employers struggled to find AI staff with the required skills including problem-solving, software engineering and knowledge of programming languages.

UK firms did, however, say they planned to use AI to address just those skills barriers.

Some 40 percent said they planned to use AI in retraining the workforce – the second-highest AI investment priority after research and development – while 59 percent said they would use the tech to automate manual or repetitive tasks.

AI strategy

The UK also had the highest proportion, by a narrow margin, of companies exploring using AI, at 47 percent.

A large majority of UK firms, at 85 percent, said they had an AI strategy or were developing one, only narrowly behind the European average of 89 percent.

The findings come as the UK government implements its National AI Strategy, launched last September, which aims to develop the country’s AI businesses and transition to an AI-enabled economy.

The UK is meanwhile ranked third globally for private investment into AI companies and is home to one-third of all of Europe’s AI businesses.

“There is clear recognition of the value AI can bring to organisations as they look to address a range of priorities and unlock growth,” said IBM UK & Ireland director of data, AI and automation Ebru Binboga.

Sustainability

“The findings reveal that companies in the UK, and around the world, are investing in AI capabilities to help them overcome challenges such as skills and labour shortages and accelerate innovation.”

She noted that a large proportion of UK businesses are looking to AI to help meet ambitious sustainability targets.

Some 30 percent of UK firms said they are planning to invest in AI to address sustainability goals, with a further 14 percent saying AI for sustainability was amongst their top priorities for technology.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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