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USING ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE TO ACHIEVE CIRCULAR ECONOMY

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By Professor Terence Tse, ESCP Business School

 

It is really only a matter of time before the two main trends, artificial intelligence (AI) and circular economy, would come together. A milestone of this convergence was the white paper “Artificial intelligence and the circular economy”: AI as a tool to accelerate the transition, jointly published by The Ellen MacArthur Foundation and Google earlier this year. It has kick-started the discussion on how AI can be used as a tool to help accelerate and scale our transition to a circular economy. This can be achieved by unlocking new opportunities through improving product and material design, enhancing circularity-based business models, and optimising circular infrastructure. The paper draws on the food and consumer electronics industries to illustrate the circular benefits driven by AI. The forecasted value that can emerge from these is encouraging: up to $127 billion and $90 billion a year in 2030, respectively.

 

The pace will be slow

No doubt these are very good news. It also shows how innovative technologies can take circular economy to the next level. Yet, I believe the path leading there will be full of challenges, not least because, contrary to what general media would like to get us to believe, the development of AI is, in reality, really slow.

 

There are several reasons attributable to this sluggish pace

First, there is a general shortage of AI-proficient graduates. Training up AI researchers takes time. Universities are not churning out data scientists fast enough to meet the job market demand. For those who are graduating, they will most likely be snapped up by the technology giants. Indeed, it has been estimated that some 60% of AI talent are in the employment of technology and financial services companies, leading to a ‘brain drain’ in academia, which in turn, slows down the production of qualified graduates. Small circular economy-based companies (as well as AI start-ups) will struggle to have the same hiring power, as they often lack the ability to match the levels of salaries and prestige offered by large organisations.

Another reason why circular economy-aimed companies, large or small, will struggle to deploy AI is that the technology remains a very expensive investment. AI is, at the moment, far from a plug-and-play technology. Arguably, there are off-the-shelf AI applications available in the market. But what this one size fits-all technology solutions can really do is often very limited and their effectiveness low. Inevitably, for AI to work at an acceptable, value-creating level, it is necessary to integrate it into the existing wider IT system. Customising AI applications to be embedded in the system architecture is very complex and hence very costly.

To make matters worse, the market is seemingly inundated with self-proclaimed AI companies. A recent report has suggested that 40 percent of start-ups in Europe that are classified as AI companies do not actually use artificial intelligence technologies in a way that is “material” to their businesses. As someone who researches and works in the business of AI, I can readily observe this phenomenon has already eroded the trust of many companies, making them increasingly cautious when proceeding with investment and deployment of AI.

 

Gradual developments, not quantum jump

For these reasons above, the adoption of AI, and by extension, in the area of circular economy, will be slow. This, however, does not mean there will be no advancement. Instead of “big bang” new business model creations, AI will most likely produce circular advantages through baby steps in operational enhancement gradually. For instance, one of the important elements in achieving circular economy is better asset management. In a recent research project for the European Defence Agency, my colleagues and I have discovered that there is a wide spectrum of operations for ministries of defence to save money and practise circular economy, from refurbishing and repurposing small military equipment items to reduce waste and minimise the use of virgin materials to extending the service years of capital assets. Unquestionably, the same may be applied to civilian activities. For example, combining the power of AI and drones can extend the longevity of major infrastructure such as reactors and bridges.

Advancements in drone technologies have allowed them to be deployed to take pictures at heights that are dangerous for inspectors to reach. The contributions of AI come from its ability to analyse and identify cracks as well as defects on assets that are not always visible to human eyes from captured images. Consequently, problems are detected before the assets become irreparable, thereby lengthening their lifetime.

A seemingly insignificant but potentially huge possibility of waste reduction would be saving on paper use. In the insurance industry, for instance, there is still a huge reliance on actual paper, with the communications between various stakeholders, including the underwriters, brokers and insured, passing on a large number of physical documents. AI techniques, in particular natural language processing, can help speed up the digitalisation of documents as they can go beyond the point of just reading and processing text to recognising and recording signatures and rubber stamp marks. Little by little, it will be possible to lower paper consumption.

 

The future is now

Both AI and circular economy are by themselves breakthrough ideas that are set to change the world dramatically. Combined, it can be a very powerful force of good. But this can only be achieved if we can synthesise them. For AI and circular economy to work together, it is necessary to educate AI developers to be more familiar with the idea of circular economy as well as making circularity practitioners and researchers more AI-savvy. Holding just half of the equation, we risk missing out on most of the intelligence. After all, no matter how smart machines can be, ultimately, it is the human intelligence – or stupidity – that determines the kind of future that we will be having.

 

Extract of “The AI Republic: Building the Nexus Between Humans and Intelligent Automation”

 

Technology

UK Organisations turn to artificial intelligence to fight sophisticated cyberattacks

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New research by cybersecurity expert Mimecast finds that email attacks are becoming more frequent and sophisticated

More and more companies in the UK are using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to fend off increasingly sophisticated cyber-attacks, according to new research from cybersecurity specialist Mimecast. The research finds that 40% of UK organisations are already using AI or ML in their organisations’ cybersecurity programme, with 30% planning to do so within the next 12 months.

The use of advanced technologies such as AI and ML is in direct response to the growing sophistication of cyberattacks that UK businesses are experiencing. 53% believe that increasingly sophisticated attacks will be their biggest email security challenge in 2022, leading to 80% believing it is at least likely their organisation will suffer a negative business impact from an email-borne attack this year.

 

Growing threat landscape

The research shows that email remains the largest threat vector for UK businesses, with 71% of respondents reporting an increase in the volume of email threats their organisation has faced in the last 12 months. This includes phishing with malicious links or attachments (56%), impersonation fraud or Business Email Compromise (53%), and malicious insiders (43%). However, it isn’t just email attacks that are on the rise, as 90% of UK businesses experienced at least one spoofing attack that uses a lookalike web domain or a clone of their organisation’s website in the last 12 months. The average UK company has experienced 11 of these attacks.

On top of this, employees are also presenting organisations with a very real threat to their cybersecurity. The survey identifies that IT decision makers have relatively low confidence in their colleagues’ cyber awareness , believing that there is a risk of an employee making a serious security risk due to oversharing company information on social media (84%), poor password hygeine (80%), using personal email (80%), or using cloud storage and other shadow IT functionality (81%). When an employee does full victim to an attack, it frequently results in more widespread consequences. 85% of respondents say threats have spread from one infected user to other members of the organisation.

 

AI to the rescue

To overcome this growing threat landscape, more and more UK organisations are turning to advanced technologies to strengthen their cybersecurity position. The 40% of UK organisations that are already using AI as part of their cybersecurity strategy are already seeing a number of benefits, including increased accuracy in terms of threat detection (54%), reduced human error within cybersecurity team (51%), and reduced workload/working hours for cybersecurity team (45%).

Despite these very real benefits, there is the very real danger that many UK organisations will miss out due to a lack of budget dedicated to cybersecurity. The research highlights a clear discrepancy between the amount IT decision makers believe should be spent on cyber resilience and how much budget is actually allocated by business leaders. IT decision makers in the UK believe that 16% of their IT budget should be allocated to cyber, but at the moment they see less than 12% allocated. Missing out on new technology innovations such as AI is identified as the most likely consequence (49%) for organisations where the cybersecurity budget is not as high as respondents believe it should be.

Elaine Lee, AI expert at Mimecast, said: “There is no doubt that cyberattacks are becoming more frequent, as UK businesses adjust to the world of hybrid work. On top of this increase in frequency, we are also seeing a rise in the sophistication of attacks. This is creating a perfect storm and making it more difficult than ever for organisations to keep their businesses secure. With this in mind, it is no surprise to see so many organisations turn to advanced technologies such as AI to bolster their cybersecurity defences. AI solutions can help businesses to automate security processes, ensuring they are better able to fend off attacks, as well as providing their security experts with more time to focus on high-level analyses that require human interaction.”

Lee continued: “Organisations that have yet to invest in AI technologies as part of their cybersecurity strategy should do so. Cyberattacks are going to continue to be a major threat to UK businesses and these businesses need to respond accordingly with sufficient budget. A successful cyberattack has the potential to cause serious ramifications for a business, including both financial and reputational damage. Now is the time to take this threat seriously and get prepared.”

 

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Addressing the talent gap within cybersecurity

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By Merlin Piscitelli, Chief Revenue Officer, EMEA at Datasite

 

Rising geopolitical tensions and increasingly sophisticated cyberwarfare tactics have meant that cybersecurity threats are now more prevalent than ever. In current times, the number of cybersecurity attacks are increasing in volume and intensity on a global scale and if a company is not properly equipped to deal with this reality, it could directly impact their survival.

Recently, some sections of businesses were compromised, taken offline, and employee accounts within key microchip and electronic powerhouses were exposed due to cyber-attacks. Most alarmingly, some of these attacks were perpetrated by the same hacking extortion group.

As digitalisation continues to increase throughout the world, and events like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine take place, it is now more important than ever to focus on combatting cyber-crime. The industry understands this, as record levels of investments have been pouring into the sector to advance our capabilities within the field.

The cybersecurity surge

Within the last 12 months, the cybersecurity sector has seen major growth with now almost 2,000 firms active within the UK providing cyber security products and services. In 2021 the UK cybersecurity industry contributed £5.3 billion to the economy, an increase of about a third from 2020, and cybersecurity firms have raised more than £1 billion external investments in 84 deals. It’s therefore fair to say that the acceleration towards digitalisation caused by the pandemic has meant businesses have had to increase their cybersecurity efforts, leading to increasing demands within the sector.

Merlin Piscitelli

As the industry finds new solutions to combat cyber-attacks, cybercriminals are continuing to explore new tactics to ensnare victims. This has resulted in higher demands for those skilled within the industry. Now, with over 2.5 million cybersecurity jobs available and the war for talent rapidly gaining momentum, it’s clear that pressure is increasing.

Cybersecurity and data protection is a strategic investment and a highly specialised endeavor. It can be more cost-effective (especially for small and medium size firms) to outsource this responsibility and partner with a vendor to design and implement solutions. Business leaders will need to ensure they are working with a reputable partner that can offer the best level of protection and technical expertise to fit organisational needs.

The talent gap

While demands are currently high, the supply isn’t there to match. In the UK, the cybersecurity talent pool has fallen short by around 10,000 people a year, and in the previous 12 months, the UK’s cyber skills shortage rose by more than a third. As a result, cybersecurity is now the most sought-after tech skill in the UK.

With more than half, 54%, of UK CEOs believing cybersecurity presents the best opportunity for TMT dealmaking over the next year, demand will rapidly outstrip supply of expertise unless there is a rapid change within the industry.

Championing the workforce

Businesses have had various strategies when looking into combatting this issue. When asked what the main drivers of recent and future cross-border technology acquisitions are, one-third of UK M&A professionals surveyed cited access to skilled/specialised talent.

Investing in your workforce is the tried and tested way of mitigating against cyber-attacks and managing risk. Having access to the necessary resources to protect your digital ecosystem and build momentum by upskilling individuals already working in the tech space, along with attracting new talent, will be crucial to tackling the current professional shortfall.

Furthermore, bringing diversity and inclusivity into the process will help truly overcome the war for talent, as businesses will need to acknowledge the correlation between the skills shortage and the lack of inclusivity needed to diversify the sector.

Ultimately, addressing the current skills gap within cybersecurity will require combined efforts from businesses, academia and governments. Championing students to take an active interest cybersecurity and go through the necessary training to develop the skills needed in the industry will go long way in evening out the playing field.

It is only by investing in developing cybersecurity talent that will we have enough people with the expertise required to protect organisations digital ecosystems as the threat landscape becomes more diverse.

 

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