Last year, Collins Dictionary coined “AI” as Word of the Year. Generative AI is a new but fast developing technology, and there’s high hopes for its potential. In the latest budget, Jeremy Hunt committed £500m of investment for AI innovation centres in the UK; probably because the UK’s AI market is currently valued at over £18.4 billion, and it is estimated to grow significantly during the next few years to add £797 billion to the UK economy by 2035.

If you weren’t convinced already that AI is here to stay, we’re seeing real demand from businesses for AI to be included in their strategies. AI technology is already being embedded into all facets of our lives from our homes and workplaces, through to some of the UK’s largest sectors, retail and finance.

While these two sectors may be on different ends of the scale when it comes to regulation and compliance, both are leveraging AI to enhance efficiency, streamline operations, and deliver personalised services to their respective clientele.

Reviving the retail industry

It’s true, the UK retail industry has been facing some challenges, especially on the high street. ONS reported recently that retail sales fell again in October, to their lowest level since February 2021 when covid restrictions remained in place. But fear not, because AI is here to save the day and rejuvenate the retail industry!

The retail sector is actually one of the leading adopters of AI technology. Retailers can use sophisticated recommendation models and other advanced AI-driven personalisation techniques to anticipate customer needs and give them an empathetic and enjoyable shopping experience, ensuring they get what they need as quickly as possible. Imagine a future where AI can blur the line between chat and shopping, with large language models responding to shoppers’ questions and making product recommendations in a way that feels natural and appropriate.

And that’s not all. Predictive analytics is also playing a vital role in the transformation of the industry. Retailers have access to a myriad of customer data, and they will use this to make more sophisticated predictions about the behaviour of individual customers and the market. This will allow them to spot dangers and opportunities, and act on these before it’s too late. The data owned by retailers is a treasure trove that can be monetised in various ways beyond just retail businesses.

Exciting practical applications of AI are already making their way into stores. Computer vision will be a big help in preventing shoplifting. AI can observe and predict in-store movements of people and produce, optimising placement, picking and personnel.

Looking ahead, the number of advanced and experimental AI options is going to increase. Retailers need to be aware of these opportunities and start thinking about prototypes and proofs of concept now. Technology constantly evolves, so getting in on the ground floor can make a huge difference.

Transforming financial services

Now let’s talk about the financial services industry, referred to as the “engine room” driving UK growth. With 2.5 million people employed across the UK – over 1.1 million in financial services (FS) and more than 1.3 million in related professional services – the industry produced £278bn of economic output, 12% of the entire UK’s economic output, and £100bn in tax revenue. And just like the retail industry, financial services is also in the process of being transformed by AI.

Through the use of AI, financial service providers will be able to build more accurate customer profiles, allowing them to offer a more personalised range of products. On top of this, repetitive data-driven tasks can be automated, freeing up human workers for more high-level work. AI that can read and understand human-generated content will allow for the incorporation of a greater quantity of data and a higher quality of insights than ever. Financial documents can benefit from this, as it allows users to go beyond sentiment analysis, and yield insights through the analysis and extraction of valuable data. Finally, as algorithms become more powerful, they will allow more accurate modelling- helping in areas such as fraud detection and portfolio management. Of course, the monetary stakes are higher in finance, so the risks are also greater.

AI is only as good as the data it’s trained on, so there’s a real danger of predictions being skewed by bad information, or biased datasets. But with the 28 leading countries signing the Bletchley Park Declaration, there is now a combined global effort to make sure AI is trained ethically and responsibly.

AI’s just getting started

AI won’t only transform the retail and finance industries but will have a much broader impact on the UK economy.

We’re just scratching the surface of AI’s full potential and its ability to improve various sectors. These industries will thrive in the AI revolution because many workers have already embraced AI as a major efficiency tool.

Unlike previous AI fads that were often imposed from above on sceptical workers, the current AI revolution is being driven from the bottom up. Individuals are realising the value and benefits of AI and are proactively incorporating it into their work routines. It’s a collaborative effort that empowers workers to take advantage of the technology.

Businesses must be alert in understanding this new technology as it comes through, and before it comes through, to stay ahead of the market and keep our competitive edge, whilst also doing their utmost to understand its ramifications and be at the forefront of good practice.

Whatever happens, AI is bound to play a huge role in the workplace of the future.  It’s just a question of how. No matter what your views on AI, one thing is certain – it’s not going anywhere. AI technology is already deeply embedded in our homes and workplaces, and it will only penetrate further as time goes on. 
Remember, the power to harness AI lies in your hands. With the right knowledge and understanding, you have the tools to embrace AI and thrive in the AI revolution. So, let’s get started on this exciting journey together!

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A data science professional with 11 years of industry experience, having worked across diverse domains including insurance, marketing, PR, sales forecasting, statistical optimisation, and Ed-tech. With a PhD in Applied Statistics from the University of Cape Town, I have honed my analytical and problem-solving skills to deliver data-driven insights and solutions that add tangible value to businesses.

As a senior data leader, I am passionate about leading teams and mentoring junior professionals to build a culture of excellence and continuous learning. I thrive in dynamic and challenging environments where I can leverage my technical expertise and strategic thinking to drive growth and innovation.

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