Analytics automation company Alteryx, Inc. has identified a new risk to the technology sector which could place the UK Government’s £65bn AI strategy at risk. Their research shows that almost half of employees now believe that data ethics is ‘irrelevant’ to their role. In the midst of failing training programmes, AI projects will continue to pose an ethical minefield for companies throughout the UK, with AI projects – and associated benefits – falling at the first hurdle. Trustworthy AI is rooted in quality information, but with untrained employees delivering dirty data, inconsistent, biased and unusable AI is the end result.
New Alteryx-commissioned YouGov research surveyed 1,000 British workers in large companies with a responsibility for data. This new information shows that 40 per cent of organisations only offer formal training to data scientists and existing business analysts (29 per cent), leaving the remainder working in an ethical chasm.
• 42 per cent of employees in the UK who work with data do not believe data ethics is relevant to their role.
• Data training is only available to pre-existing experts such as data scientists (40 per cent) and business analysts (29 per cent). With so many workers excluded from data training, the UK is primed for an ethics disaster.
• Workers now gravitate towards informal mentoring (29 per cent) and informal user groups (20 per cent), increasing the risks of inconsistent ethics frameworks leading to biases.
• More than a third (39 per cent) of UK business leaders believe solving this challenge is someone else’s problem, indicating these problems will endure for some time yet.
With no training available, and core lessons around ethics dismissed, employees are increasingly operating in the dark – further overloading at-capacity data science teams. Of those ranking their data skills as 10/10 – our data scientists – 33 per cent still spend, on average, at least nine hours a week on basic data cleansing, blending, and shaping. Seven per cent spend at least 30 hours on the same tasks. It is clear that the highest skilled workers spend a disproportionate amount of their time each week on tasks that can be completed by workers with less advanced skillsets, and are stuck in a continuous loop of day-to-day activity. With such a huge skills gap, the efforts of highly trained data scientists are being wasted.
Furthermore, 57 per cent of these data scientists say their business is “not making the full use of the data” it has and 61 per cent say that employees are “lacking the data literacy skills needed to meet today’s business challenges”. Highlighting the strong appetite and need for data skills to drive their careers forward, however, 64 per cent of those employees say that data training should be expanded to all data workers.
“With data scientists remaining wizards in an ivory tower, a much-needed digital-first cultural shift has dramatically stalled,” comments Alan Jacobson, chief data and analytic officer at Alteryx. “What we now see is an AI conundrum with no end in sight. While data is increasingly the common language of business, few receive the training to deliver any benefit from it, with the remainder relegated to working in the dark. Even with recent Budget news that the number of Data Science conversion courses are set to double, the value of this training is questionable without a core ethics foundation present across the workforce.
“Despite bold plans in the form of the £65bn National AI Project in the balance, the lack of foundational data skills remains a significant stumbling block, with key lessons left unlearned. If left unaddressed, unintentional data biases can lead to perpetuated discriminatory practices, as well as inaccurate, incorrect, and inconsistent AI models,” Jacobson says.