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6 posts from October 2020

28 October 2020

Humans and drones: A dream team, or a case of ‘man vs machine’?

by Jennifer Ren UK Drones, PwC United Kingdom

When new technology is deployed in the workplace, it ultimately changes how people do their jobs.

Workplace automation is a megatrend affecting most markets. Businesses of all kinds are familiar with automation and robotic process automation in the workplace. Some reports claim that automation technology could take over as many as 800 million jobs by 2030.

Drones are no exception, they are being deployed for everyday operations in a variety of sectors. But unlike some emerging technologies, drones currently have a more complementary relationship with people.

Rather than replacing human activity, drones are augmenting capabilities and enhancing collaborative intelligence. There are two ways to look at how drones and humans work together. One is through the current augmentation stage and the second is looking to the future, to a time of greater automation.

Drones augmenting what people can do

We’re already at the augmentation stage with drones actively complementing and extending our capabilities.

  • Drones are being used extensively to inspect structures and locations that are difficult or dangerous for humans to access, giving their human operators a safe aerial perspective.
  • The emergency services are using drones to help in life-or-death scenarios. From the fire service using drones for risk assessments in burning structures, to coastguard and lifeboat services augmenting searches or using drones with powerful lighting to aid night time rescues.
  • Drones are proving invaluable in supporting natural disaster relief efforts. Fitted with thermal imagery cameras, drones can help detect and locate survivors. They can also assist workers in calculating the number of displaced people in need of shelter.
  • Drones are being used in numerous public safety trials in parts of the UK. The Fleetlights pilot scheme is exploring how drones can help pedestrians navigate dark country roads by offering ‘personal street lights’ to reduce accident risk.

The case for increasingly autonomous drones

The next inflection point for drones will arise with autonomous UAVs that can ‘see’ and fly intelligently. This opens the possibility for drones to play a greater role, with less human interaction.

Improvements will include AI for obstacle avoidance, and geofencing, meaning drones can be programmed to avoid pre-set spatial coordinates, such as restricted airspace around airports or military installations.

Again, there are many possible applications for autonomous UAV technology:

As drone autonomy increases, the roles that humans have will also evolve. Future jobs will include the repair, maintenance, programming and piloting of drones. Human labour will be diverted to creating value from the outputs of drone data collection activities such as analysis and modelling. Displacement, not replacement, is more likely to be the result of a future drone ecosystem.

There are barriers to this next step; autonomous piloting is not quite there yet. The regulatory landscape remains hard to navigate and there are significant societal and cultural issues to overcome. But while these will take time to develop, the opportunities in a drone-augmented landscape are abundant.

As Mary Cummings, a professor and drone expert at MIT and Duke University, told ABC News: “Ultimately, drones will create more jobs than they replace, they will save lives and they will give us capabilities we only dream about.”

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by Jennifer Ren UK Drones, PwC United Kingdom

26 October 2020

Why connecting big data is now a bigger priority for the UK Government

by David Geere Director, PwC United Kingdom

by Friederike Murach-Ward Senior Associate, PwC United Kingdom

Collecting, analysing and reporting on public sector data has become front page news in the wake of the pandemic. And while we’ve seen rapid increases in effective data usage across Government, there remain cultural and technical barriers to overcome. When time and accuracy are of the essence, what is needed to tackle these challenges?

Why use Big Data?

At a strategic level, the Government recognises the importance of data sharing to drive change and find budget efficiencies. Yet Government departments and the wider public sector continue to spend time sharing data manually in non-standard, non-repeatable ways or disagreeing about what can be shared at all. We’re seeing signs that the Government recognises these issues. The Government Data Standards Authority has been established and improvements to data standards in Finance, Commercial and HR are in flight. Most recently, the Government published its National Data Strategy.

Sharing data is critical in areas such as national security, fraud and track and trace. It is also highly beneficial in supporting citizens through difficult life events such as moving home or dealing with the bereavement of a loved one. The National Data Strategy proposes digital identities as a way to address this. Citizen IDs and the integration of citizen health, benefit, pension, education and tax data is highly politically sensitive. However, done properly, with robust data protection controls, IDs could help to provide the required insight for interventions to close the inequality gap individual by individual.

Data also has intrinsic value. The private sector is a core consumer of the data that the public sector generates, be it demographic, geographic or fiscal. The National Data Strategy seeks to “unlock the value of data across the economy”. In difficult economic times should the Government expect a greater financial return than companies simply paying their taxes? We have already seen a number of Government bodies charge fees for the provision of data to customers or receive an income through various licensing products. Should more Government datasets be monetised to help cut deficits and drive effective commercial thinking? Whether money changes hands or not, the targeted, secure and balanced sharing of data between the private and public sector, particularly around areas such as personal finance, is crucial in the fight against fraud and economic crime. As such, data sharing should be an integral part of future international trade agreements.

Improving data sharing in Government

In this digital age where big data isn’t thought of as big anymore, the ability to put data anywhere in the cloud and innovations in artificial intelligence and machine learning have become the norm. Robust, integrated, secure and real-time data sharing through mechanisms such as Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are usual. Not sharing data is unusual.

It will take political will to continue to drive effective data sharing across Government and the National Data Strategy is an important foundation. Technology is not a limiting factor. Data standards, architectures and principles will need to improve. Politicians and Senior Civil Servants owe it to the country to answer the three difficult questions 1) Is it now time to accelerate the use of insight to help drive fairness and reduce inequality across the UK? 2) Why isn’t data sharing between government departments, agencies and the wider public sector fast, efficient and streamlined? 3) Is it now time for greater commercialisation of government data, where appropriate?

As a firm we can see the positive impact that effective data sharing and a real commitment to realising the value of data will have. To succeed, Government needs deep sector experience alongside consumer and regulatory insights, as well as multidisciplinary expertise that combines Technology, Data & Analytics, Commercial and Legal practices that accelerate capabilities and develop innovative ideas. With the right guidance and strategic analysis in place, as well as public-private collaboration, Government leaders can inspire, deliver and create a sustainable legacy for the transformational journey that the National Data Strategy has started.

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by David Geere Director, PwC United Kingdom

by Friederike Murach-Ward Senior Associate, PwC United Kingdom

Driverless: How much control would you give to an AI system?

by Nick Silversides Senior Manager

How do you deliver an AI system that is as good as a human at adapting to new situations?

PwC is sponsoring the Science Museum’s ‘Driverless: who is in control?’ exhibition, which explores how the AI-driven technology of autonomous vehicles is shaping the behaviour and society of tomorrow.

Organisations globally are recognising the need for responsible AI. According to our 2020 AI predictions report, only about one-third of respondents have fully tackled risks related to data, AI models, outputs, and reporting. This is why PwC has developed a Responsible AI toolkit to help you harness the power of AI in an ethical and responsible manner. If we as humans find it difficult to decide on ethical and moral responsibilities, how can we programme an AI system to deliver those actions on our behalf?

Driverless technologies are a growing market - from drones to autonomous vehicles we’re seeing more interest than ever from our clients who want to understand these technologies and prepare for the potential impacts on their business. Supporting the exhibition helped us build trust in these emerging technologies by tackling some of the most difficult questions about the future of autonomous vehicles. 

Hear from our AI Cloud Technology Lead, Dr Nick Silversides, on how AI can be used in business to help build trust in society and solve important problems.

The Driverless exhibition has been extended until 5th January 2021.

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by Nick Silversides Senior Manager

15 October 2020

How innovation can accelerate digital transformation

by Emily Chan Product and Innovation Capabilities Lead

The changes required to adapt to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic have created an organisational openness to agile working and values – from people and culture, to structure and technology. Business leaders are telling us that the transformations they expected to take up to five years to implement instead happened in a matter of months.

So what’s the key to activating an innovation strategy and powering real transformation? It lies with three Cs: commitment, catalysts and craft.

Commitment: Transformation requires unambiguous buy-in from leadership. When leaders clearly articulate and show appreciation for innovation, they send a powerful signal on priorities to internal and external audiences. Commitment also includes championing innovators.

Catalysts: This involves choosing and creating the right enablers to accelerate the development and adoption of transformation across the organisation. You can’t expect an innovation strategy to succeed if you starve it of resources. Catalysts require investments in capabilities, technologies, workspaces, organisational structures and methods.

Craft: This can be the most difficult part. It’s about introducing change through the catalysts in a way that works with your organisational structure and culture. It also includes having the ingenuity to craft an approach that balances business understanding with insight and technology innovation. Craft is based on developing processes that augment and supplement existing innovation strengths.

Using the three Cs will help you activate your innovation strategy and build a balanced portfolio with space for all types of change. Our survey found 59% of UK CEOs have the digital transformation of core business operations and digitising current processes as a top three priority (61% globally). The three Cs can help you with adjacent innovation too, such as creating new offerings (15% of UK CEOs - 17% globally - are looking to add digital products or services), as well as far-out, disruptive ideas unlike anything you’ve done before.

So what’s the problem?

Innovative solutions that drive transformation can involve identifying fundamental problems in the business, rather than merely addressing symptoms. Too often, there’s a rush to offer solutions without understanding such problems.

Innovation doesn’t necessarily mean starting from zero, though. Some of the biggest innovations involve building on things that already exist but in new ways. It can mean doing new things with existing resources; bringing old ideas to new products, people and places; or creating new combinations of old ideas. Finding ways to test and reuse existing solutions in new ways that meet business needs can result in real innovation. A famous example is the children’s toy Play-Doh, which was originally a wallpaper cleaner. Successfully pivoting existing technologies and services requires as much innovation and invention as starting with a blank sheet of paper.

We recently saw proof of this ourselves. We rapidly designed a programme that uses our ‘always on’ online innovation platform and launched an ‘Ideaspace’ during lockdown. This provided a way to capture and evaluate the spontaneous outpouring of ideas from our people on ways to support our communities, clients and our own organisation. We found that 60% of the ideas already existed in some form and the innovation was in finding new ways to use them.

‘Ideaspace’ was successful because we didn’t put finding solutions first. Instead, we asked for an identification of problems or potential problems. Focusing on solutions can constrain how you think. Remember the theory of constraints: every organisation has constraints that limit it from achieving some of its goals. It follows that if you can identify those constraints, you can turn them to your advantage. A real-world example can be found in the COVID-19 pandemic. It has forced businesses to identify weak links and innovate to turn things around. Solutions come from really seeing the problem and understanding your true capabilities.

Ideaspace invited participation from the whole of our 22,000-strong workforce and produced high-quality ideas, some of which are now being turned into reality. We also applied our learnings from running other innovation challenges. A deadline is always crucial: half of the submissions came in the final 24 hours. It’s important to give personalised feedback, too. It takes courage to put down your thoughts and then submit them. Feedback creates an innovation-friendly space.

Lockdown triggered a fresh look at external events like our CIO Forum, as well. In a world where everyone is comfortable with remote access, the constraints changed on who might be asked to participate and who could attend a business event.

By committing to innovation and transformation, providing the catalysts and applying the craft, it’s possible to do more and do it more quickly than seemed possible just a year ago. We’d be happy to discuss how to accelerate innovation within your organisation. Now is the time to see what you’re truly capable of.

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by Emily Chan Product and Innovation Capabilities Lead

13 October 2020

Trust, transparency, efficiency: The trillion-dollar reasons to rethink blockchain

by Steve Davies Partner, Global Blockchain Leader, PwC United Kingdom

Blockchain technology is on track to deliver a US $1.76 trillion boost to the global economy by 2030, by helping organisations improve efficiency, cut costs and build greater trust and loyalty among customers, staff and business partners.

That is the headline finding of PwC economists who have assessed how the technology is currently being used across every industry - from healthcare to manufacturing, finance, and retail - and analysed its potential future uptake.

Our ‘Time for trust’ report provides a timely reminder that there is so much more to blockchain than cryptocurrencies.

Trust is fragile in a digital world, and it continues to be stress-tested to the extreme. It is hard won, and easily lost. PwC’s annual CEO Survey revealed more than half of CEOs believe faltering trust in business poses a threat to their organisation. Consumers have heightened expectations of the companies they buy from and engage with. They want transparency into issues ranging from sustainability to ethical sourcing, and certainty in the information they are accessing and sharing online. As our report explores, blockchain can help significantly in these regards, while also giving organisations greater confidence in areas of the business such as supply chains, recruitment and financial transactions.

Our report states the majority of businesses will be using blockchain technology by 2025. And we have ranked the top five uses for blockchain, by their potential to generate economic value, from creating, storing and authenticating information - such as birth certificates, driving licences and degree certificates - to tracking the journey and provenance of goods from fresh produce to raw materials.

Read our ‘Time for trust’ report to find out more about how blockchain is being used right now, and which industries and countries are set to reap the biggest rewards from the technology. Explore our research and read the insights from our global industry experts.

And please, to find out more about how blockchain can create value for your organisation, get in touch.

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by Steve Davies Partner, Global Blockchain Leader, PwC United Kingdom

05 October 2020

Artificial intelligence ready to move drones to the next level

by Fabrice Ciais Associate Director, AI, PwC United Kingdom

by Craig Roberts UK Drones Technical Lead, PwC United Kingdom

In our latest CEO Panel survey more than three-quarters (77%) of CEOs expect an enduring shift toward automation and one sector where exciting developments are expected is drones. AI technology is making drones smarter and enhancing the capabilities of human operators. Together, this is plotting a path to fully autonomous drones.

One common use of drones is in supporting audits by measuring the volumes of stockpiles or verifying measurements already completed. This has led to numerous benefits in sectors including energy, construction and mining. Drones are safer, faster and more cost-effective than traditional land-surveying approaches and comparably accurate.

The current drone workflow breaks down into four stages: permission (to fly), capture, processing and sharing.

If we consider audits, we can see the current semi-autonomous state of two of these phases, capture and processing. Capture usually involves a pilot at a site. The drone is flying a predetermined route but, legally, the pilot must have ‘eyes on’ at all times, ensuring safe flight. Images captured by the drone are then processed into 3D models of stockpiles using photogrammetry software, another semi-automated task with a human at the helm at all times.

Within five years, these phases will automate further. We will see computer vision AI better integrated into drone data capture and analysis, leading to safer and more efficient collection and processing of data. Computer vision AI in the drone could be part of a technology concert that delivers effective ‘sense and avoid’. In other words, enabling the drone to dynamically map its environment in 3D and make evasive manoeuvres to avoid crashes.

For human operators, AI and associated technology will offer the chance to operate drones remotely, increasing speed and quality. This could include running multiple simultaneous missions from a central command and control location, often many miles from the audit site.

AI may also deliver a significant increase in the scale and pace of drone-captured data processing, with proven automation cutting through onerous manual tasks and offering humans an opportunity to develop higher value skill sets.

It is vital, however, to remember that both drones and AI exist in a social context. Regulations must evolve to allow for these advancements and social acceptance will need to grow. In order to take advantage of drone technology, it will be key for businesses to develop the right ‘guardrails’ to respect regulation and act in an ethical manner. Respect for individual privacy, cyber security, creation of codes of conduct and ensuring human expertise stays in the forefront of decision making are necessary elements of good governance for these AI-based systems.

All of that said, drones can deliver significant advantages to businesses right now, even in their semi-automated state.

PwC is ready to show you how drones and AI can benefit your organisation and help you to plan for what they will be able to do in future.

Get in touch

If you’d like to understand how drones and AI can integrate to support your businesses, please get in touch with us using the contact details below.

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by Fabrice Ciais Associate Director, AI, PwC United Kingdom

by Craig Roberts UK Drones Technical Lead, PwC United Kingdom