ARTIFICIAL intelligence could boost Jersey’s declining workforce productivity and help address recruitment shortages, the head of Digital Jersey has said.
Tony Moretta spoke to the JEP following the resignation of the computer scientist whose research paved the way for AI systems such as chatbots.
A chatbot is a software application that aims to mimic human conversation through text or voice interactions, and can produce large amounts of text with input questions.
In an interview with the BBC, ‘AI godfather’ Geoffrey Hinton, who used to work for Google, said that some of the dangers of chatbots were ‘quite scary’, adding that they could ‘soon’ be more intelligent than humans.
However, Mr Moretta said: ‘The danger is if Jersey does not use this new technology and we fall behind other jurisdictions.
‘AI technology could have a really positive impact on workforce productivity by enabling individuals to produce more content more quickly.’
He added that there were ‘always going to be some winners and losers with technology’ and that it will not help tourism and agriculture as much as ‘the economic powerhouse of the finance industry’.
Productivity in Jersey has dropped since its high point in 2007, with a report published in 2018 finding that Jersey’s Gross Value Added – total economic output – was behind Guernsey and the UK. Last year, the JEP reported that economic productivity of financial services (measured per full-time employee) had declined by 33% since 2007.
In response to concerns that chatbots could replace human workers, resulting in a loss of jobs, Mr Moretta likened the emergence of AI to that of Microsoft Office, saying: ‘Microsoft Excel was not the end of accountants.’
‘With admin or desk-based jobs, it speeds up writing copy and takes some of the drudgery out of it, but you still need humans to ask the chatbots the questions, know if the answers are correct, curate that copy, and interpret the results.’
The priority, according to Mr Moretta, is investment in ‘training up your workforce to use the new tools properly’.
Earlier this year the States agreed to the setting up of a Skills Development Fund to invest in training Islanders to meet skills gaps and human labour needs across the economy. The Treasury Minister is required to create the fund no later than January 2024.
Digital Jersey is working with the government to provide new courses on how to use AI effectively and Mr Moretta said he hoped the fund would allow them to provide more in the future.
He said that chatbots could write documents much more quickly than humans, which would help the Island’s ‘two biggest employers’ – finance and the government.
‘When producing paperwork, policy work, admin work, that automated intelligence could speed those processes up,’ he said.
Mr Moretta added: ‘If you look across Jersey, one thing you see in common is recruitment shortages.’
He said he had come across examples where AI chatbots accelerated recruitment processes, with employers ‘asking them to produce a job description’.
Mr Moretta said: ‘We could see a significant impact on productivity in big chunks of the Jersey economy with the ability to do more with less people. That is an important Jersey objective, to expand growth of our industries without recruiting more or increasing immigration.
‘If you want companies to grow without growing the population, there is no other way to do it than with technology.’
Mr Moretta said AI technology could further tackle the issue of an ageing population, adding: ‘If we want to keep the same level of economic output over the coming years, we can look at how to do the same amount of work with a smaller workforce, which will be necessary if an increasing part of the workforce will be older.’
He added that AI could also ‘monitor elderly people living at home, with devices and sensors that have the intelligence to trigger a warning to family members to check up on someone’, but admitted that ‘you still need people in care-based roles like teaching and caring’.
Asked whether Digital Jersey could one day be run by an AI chatbot, Mr Moretta said: ‘It already is. My name is Anthony Ian Moretta. AI Moretta. It would be hard for this technology to perform person- and client-focused roles, such as leadership and management, but no one knows where technology is going to go. I don’t think we’re going to have an AI head of Digital Jersey within my career lifetime.’