AI
Mark Zuckerberg latest project is to design an AI robot to help him around the houseiStock

Will 2016 be the year of the robot? The idea of building such advanced technology may seem bizarre for some but due to the incredible tech advances within the last decade, it means that, amazingly, artificial intelligence is not only a possibility, it's quickly becoming a reality.

This week I read with interest as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced his plans to build his very own AI to help him around the house, as well as at work.

We've already seen the proliferation of home technology in the last year, wireless programmes enabling people to control lighting, temperature, music and electricity remotely were all the rage in 2015 and I suspect interest will only multiply this year.

Zuckerberg labelled this as his challenge of the year and he vowed to keep us updated with advances whilst he spends time reaping the rewards of building something new and consistently innovating.

Of course, I resonate with the notion of setting personal challenges, especially when we're able to take advantage of a New Year and the prospects a fresh start could unearth.

However, I can't help but align myself with my own passion when I read news like this − that is my passion for people and ensuring that, not only are they valued, but they are always able to maintain employment. The tech sector continues to steam ahead at 100mph, and whilst creativity, innovation and the increase in new start-up tech businesses is great for the growth of the UK economy, I can't help but think about our employment figures and how the design of Zuckerberg's ideal AI could stagnate the creation of new jobs in the UK.

Could robots and AI genuinely threaten the workforce as we know it today? You only need to look at the retail sector to see the negative effects technology has had on UK employment. Our UK supermarkets employ around 750,000 people but with the introduction of self-service checkouts, the death of the checkout worker is more and more likely.

We have a real catch-22 situation here. Technology is undoubtedly absolutely critical for the growth and success of the UK economy and we must be innovative to compete internationally. Quite rightly our government provides important support for UK tech businesses, such as funding and mentorships, to help them complete their mission; to accelerate the development of digital businesses in the UK and remain a serious competitor alongside the likes of California's Silicon Valley.

However, as an advocate for people with passion and a businessman who has spent 30 years building and scaling people-based businesses, I think it's really important we take time to recognise the effects – good and bad – such advanced technology could have. Even when considering the self-checkouts at supermarkets, I hear many more complaints about the self-service machines in use than about the friendly and welcoming staff who serve people day to day, although they may not be as quick.

I will always voice my support for training and recognition of soft skills because the fact is, it's people who breathe life into business. That's why businesses need to invest in the training and development of their people if they really want to make an impression in the market and realise their potential success. Eventually AIs may be able to deliver a service practically in the same way as a person can, but the personal touch won't quite be there, and it will be missed if we lose that.

Of course, it is critical we are all embracing innovation and technology if we want to get ahead, remain competitive within our sectors and improve productivity levels. But, we must all ensure that we do not lose the people and soft skills that can be found in our flourishing service sector today and make it such a pleasure for so many workers across the UK.

I'll certainly continue to implement effective technology into my businesses and will be waiting intently for Zuckerberg's first update.


James Caan CBE is founder and CEO of Hamilton Bradshaw, a venture capital firm based in Mayfair, and a former panellist on BBC series Dragons' Den.