On stage with Dell Technologies: An assessment of advancing AI capabilities

We’ve just had the pleasure of visiting immersive entertainment district Outernet London as a guest of our partner Dell Technologies, which has collaborated with Intel and Softcat as part of their latest Executive Networking Forum, The Showcase: Bring AI to your Data. 
Following networking, the event began with a keynote speech from Hannah Fry, Professor in the Mathematics of Cities at the UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (or mathematician, science presenter and all-round badass, as detailed on her website).  
Hannah’s topic of discussion addressed “the rhetoric around humans versus AI and machines” – an ongoing debate that’s skewing the way consumers and businesses engage with the ever-evolving technology. Surveying 32,000 respondents across 28 countries about trust amid rapid innovation, the 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer found that 35% of people embrace AI while 30% resist it. 
Having demonstrated examples linked to the human vs AI battle throughout her presentation, Hannah highlighted: “I’m ultimately extremely optimistic about the future of AI. As you go forward on your AI journeys, remember that the people who have started to make the most of it understand the power but understand the [opportunities].” Indeed, for all the doubt around the technology, Edelman notes that generative AI features could add up to $4.4tn to the global economy annually.  
A discussion linked to this took place at Plexal’s Stratford workspace on Tuesday 23rd April as part of the Future Frontiers event organised by Tech London Advocates and Here East. Regarding staying ahead of emerging technologies, Plexal CEO Andrew Roughan argued: “I see this change as a huge opportunity if we’re brave – but we must avoid being pensive for a few years. We’re a quarter of the way into the century now and the next quarter will define not only London’s future but all of our careers and lives.” 
Next on the Dell stage was Ruby Motabhoy, Innovation Lead at Plexal, as part of an ‘Advancing capabilities with AI’ discussion alongside Tariq Hussain, Senior Director at Dell Technologies and Paul Calleja, Director of Research Computing at the University of Cambridge. 

 Tariq first asked what implications AI advancements present for businesses and academia. Ruby started off by noting that, while industry previously went down a rabbit hole of sector-specific use cases, we’re now at an exciting time for AI which is seeing more full use applications because the tech is evolving too quickly.  

“We’re seeing lots of startups responding to the opportunity, either by applying AI to augment their existing product set or creating novel capabilities,” Ruby explained. “The niche and sector-specific approach to AI often doesn’t work anymore because the pace of change is too fast and use cases are often cross-sector relevant anyway so there’s a huge opportunity to work together.” 
Recognising our specialty in working with an array of organisations – private and public, small and large, local and global – Tariq questioned how we’re supporting partners in the private and public sectors. Pinpointing that these organisations can learn from one another, Ruby revealed: “At Plexal, we see a lot of tech being developed for defence and security use cases, which is often just as relevant for the private sector. It’s all about the potential of dual use tech.” 
Continuing on the theme of how we’re working with diverse partners, Ruby added: “To reference an Ada Lovelace Institute quote in discussing the usage of AI in the UK, they say ‘Many eyes and no hands’. The way I’ve interpreted that is the ecosystem has plenty of visibility of the opportunities and risks AI brings – especially demonstrated by the AI Safety Summit last year – but not enough mechanisms to address them. So, our role is improving pathways that can close the gap between the government, startups and academia to create more hands and more levers.” 

Tariq pulled on the thread dangling from the mention of the AI Safety Summit, an event designed to encourage regulation, and enquired what risks we face. “There are many obvious risks such as misinformation and public trust, particularly in an election year,” Ruby said. Her point affirms what Plexal CCO Saj Huq discussed in Computer Weekly, confronting disinformation and deepfakes as more than half of the world’s population is set to head to the polls in 2024. 
“But what I see the most in industry is that businesses don’t always have a good understanding of how their customers perceive AI,” Ruby added. “It’s incredibly difficult to understand what your redlines are as an organisation, how that impacts your development practices, how you red team against threats and really stress test them if you don’t understand what that boundary is for your end users.” 
Noting visibility of more cooperation across the public sector, Tariq flagged that this is a practice that seems to have been more prominent since the outbreak of Covid-19, at which time there was a mass effort around procurement of kit and hardware. On that, he asked Ruby what she’s seeing at the intersection of research and government departments. 

“I think covid is the gold standard in terms of that whole-of-society effort and we’re seeing our clients inspired to continue that collaborative energy,” she said. “We need to draw on cross-sector talent – academia, industry technologists, government regulatory and policy experts – to make new AI capabilities work for everyone.” 
Sharing some final thoughts, Ruby closed: “I think for a long time, we’ve had people over promising and under delivering on AI. Now, it feels like we’re in a bit of a step change where all that possibility is coming to life – you can see it and touch it. I’m excited to see what happens in the next six to 12 months.”