IBM's Chief Executive Discusses the Future of AI at London Tech Week

Startups Magazine attended a keynote talk at London Tech Week to learn how AI is actually being used in business and the public sector.

Dr Nicola Hodson, Chief Executive of IBM UK & Ireland, delivered an insightful speech on the transformative impact of AI technology. She reflected on the rapid adoption of AI and its significant potential, citing a forecast by McKinsey: "According to McKinsey, AI will add $4.4 trillion a year to global GDP by 2030. In the same timeframe, the OECD forecasts that UK GDP will be $3.4 trillion. So, in less than six years, the aim is for AI to outstrip UK GDP by more than a trillion dollars. That’s a staggering forecast, indicating a great deal at stake for all of us, our organisations, and our people."

IBM, with its 112-year history as a tech company, believes in the net positive benefits of new technology. Dr Hodson emphasised: "At IBM, we understand that new technology brings net positive benefits. The real commercial value of AI today can be realised safely and ethically.”

Despite the excitement surrounding Generative AI, Dr Hodson acknowledged the challenges: "Last year, there was a lot of hype and excitement about Gen AI. While there is still a way to go in business to realise its full potential, we can already see its benefits. We can take all the world’s data and put it inside an AI foundation model. Yet only a tiny amount of enterprise data is currently being used in these models."

She stressed the importance of moving forward, use case by use case, to leverage enterprise data effectively: "Having all your enterprise data ready to deploy is far from easy, but there is power in moving forward use case by use case. Data, alongside our people, is our most precious asset in business. We have to move faster to ingest our enterprise data into trustworthy foundation models."

Dr Hodson outlined three key considerations for AI:

  1. AI needs to be trusted – we will only realise the opportunity if there is good governance in the way we design, build, and deploy AI applications
  2. It's about flexibility – we need the ability to combine models and deploy them across multiple environments
  3. An open approach that maximises the benefits of being part of a global AI ecosystem

IBM’s commitment to an open approach includes open-sourcing its latest AI models and providing indemnity for their foundation models. Dr Hodson explained: "By open-sourcing our latest and most advanced AI models, we invite clients, developers, and global experts to build on our strengths and push the boundaries of what AI can do in enterprise environments. This approach allows us to innovate with confidence using our enterprise data."

She highlighted a successful use case in healthcare: "In healthcare, we used AI to help University Hospitals Coventry reduce patient no-shows, allowing doctors to see an additional 700 patients a week. The hospitals reviewed in just 80 hours as many patient letters as they would have previously taken four years to get through."

Dr Hodson was joined on stage by Wendy Redshaw, Chief Digital Information Officer at NatWest Group, who discussed the bank's digital transformation journey and the pivotal role of AI.

Redshaw emphasised the importance of leveraging AI for progress and collaboration: "AI has been an incredibly important tool for us to get to where we are today. We use a lot of machine learning models, with about 10% of our algorithms being AI-driven. We’ve integrated AI within guardrails to ensure systems are subject to human oversight, technically robust and resilient, and safe for our customers.”

She then discussed the evolution of NatWest's digital assistant, Cora. In 2017, NatWest introduced Cora as its 24/7 assistant to handle day-to-day routine tasks. Initially, Cora was a text-based chatbot. However, over time, through natural language processing and machine learning, Cora has evolved to include voice recognition, enhancing customer experience.

The impact of Cora has been significant: "In 2023, Cora helped 10.8 million customers resolve their queries, up from 5 million in 2019."

Just this morning, NatWest launched the newest version of Cora. By incorporating generative AI from IBM, Meta, and OpenAI, it is one of the first banks in the UK to employ generative AI intertwined with traditional AI throughout its digital systems. This means customers will have more natural conversational engagement with the bank.

"Integrating AI allows us to offer more efficient, secure, and personalised services, maximising value for our customers and ensuring we stay at the forefront of digital banking," concluded Redshaw.

Stephan Pretorius, Global Chief Technology Officer of WPP, also shared his insights on the strategic use of AI in the creative industry.

"Creative industries have always been early adopters of technologies. It's great to see so many organisations coming together to discuss the progress and future opportunities of tech."

He emphasised the transformative potential of AI across various knowledge sectors: "AI is transforming every facet of knowledge work today, from accounting to law, strategy, consulting, marketing, and advertising. It is vital that we invest in this technology early, innovate, and figure out the best applications both internally and for our clients."

Leadership plays a crucial role in driving AI adoption: "Never before in my career have CEOs been so focused on one topic consistently across all industries. Business leaders, particularly CEOs, need to have a vision for how AI can be applied and drive that narrative within their organisations."

Pretorius stressed the importance of partnerships and investments in AI: "Partnerships with technology leaders like Microsoft and IBM are key in delivering AI solutions. The investment in core technology, research, and infrastructure is phenomenal, and every company can benefit by applying these innovations."

WPP has committed significant resources to AI, specifically $300 million annually, about 2% of net sales, to AI investment.

Pretorius shared examples of AI applications at WPP:

Stimulating ideation: "We use AI to solve the blank page problem in campaign planning. AI generates headlines, calls to action, and sample images based on metrics, aiding internal ideation."

Accurate content creation: "Our industry demands accurate content. We use 3D rendering engines and AI to create precise, product-specific content, combining data with lighting and settings."

Creating new content: "We simulate entirely new content and products using environments like Nvidia. For instance, we created high-fidelity content for a product that doesn't yet exist for BYD, enabling demand generation despite supply chain constraints."

Pretorius concluded by highlighting the importance of AI in transforming creative processes and strategy: "AI is already helping our customers in remarkable ways. Our strategy, people, and creative processes are being reshaped by AI, demonstrating its immense potential."