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It's time for businesses to grasp the possibilities of the future.


AS TECHNOLOGY rapidly changes the way we live and work, the UK can't afford to take its foot off the pedal. The upcoming General Election is a golden chance to break the Brexit gridlock, so that business can focus on the technologies behind the greatest innovations of the decade.

It's fair to say political uncertainty has taken its toll on business investment in technology, but it's not stopping firms looking to turn research into reality.

Take AI. A decade ago the technology was mainly on the silver screen. Now it's everywhere we look.

Experiences like online shopping have been transformed - from chatbots that provide customer service to algorithms that can search for the perfect product based on your preferences.

It is fast becoming impossible to imagine a world without AI. So the question arises: what's next? New survey data - from the firstever CBI/Accenture Tech Tracker - reveals some surprising answers.

Over the next five years, the top innovation that businesses surveyed will start investing in is distributed ledger technology (35%). And there is also set to be a quantum leap - nearly three times as many businesses plan to invest in quantum computing (32%), compared to the number investing today (11%).

But what are they? If you don't know what these technologies are, you're not alone.

While they are already generating headlines, most businesses are firmly in the research phase, exploring their potential.

Distributed ledger technology - the most well-known of which is blockchain - is a highly secure virtual database. Quantum computing is a form of supercomputing that has the potential to solve incredibly complex problems that standard computers struggle to handle.

It's unlikely that these technologies will be available for next-day delivery anytime soon, but they have the potential to radically change how firms do business.

Quantum computing might lead to major medical breakthroughs, such as new drug discoveries.

Distributed ledger technology could guarantee a transparent supply chain, helping shoppers make informed ethical choices.

But with increasingly powerful technology comes an equally great responsibility for business.

For example, we know that while AI can help tackle climate change, it can also reflect society's existing unfair biases.

If firms want to harness pioneering technologies, they will need to answer some of the difficult questions which can undermine public trust.

Our survey shows that many businesses surveyed are rising to the challenge.

Firms are taking action to boost privacy and security, create watertight governance processes and improve the diversity of their tech development teams.

Businesses must continue to step up and get this right. It's firmly in everyone's interest - research shows that the way a company treats personal data is the most important factor for customers when deciding where to spend their pay cheque.

More broadly, CBI research shows that around nine in 10 people expect businesses to speak out on key social issues and often view business leaders more favourably for doing so. In other words, building trust and acting responsibly can become a key competitive advantage.

Speculating about technology is always a risky endeavour - as renowned physicist Steven Hawking said: "The future is indefinite and exists only as a spectrum of possibilities."

We don't know what these technologies will, or could, bring. But unless businesses continue to step up, that's all they will remain. Indefinite, unrealised, possibilities.

| Ian Price is director of CBI Wales.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Nov 18, 2019
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