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Artificial intelligence and innovation in spotlight at event coinciding with anniversary of launch of Kingston University's Town House Strategy

Posted Thursday 19 October 2023

Artificial intelligence and innovation in spotlight at event coinciding with anniversary of launch of Kingston University's Town House Strategy Caroline Plumb at Town House

Artificial intelligence (AI) can be a force for good, but greater diversity in the networks involved in its development and better regulation are needed to avoid unintended consequences. That is the view of serial entrepreneur and influential business leader Caroline Plumb, who has emphasised the importance of innovation and future skills in a world that would be shaped by advances in artificial and augmented intelligence in a keynote address at Kingston University.

Speaking at a special all-staff event coinciding with the first anniversary of the University's visionary Town House Strategy, she outlined why she was such an advocate for helping organisations, whatever their size, to think and act innovatively.

Ms Plumb's career path has coincided with the development of AI, culminating in its rapid growth in recent years through the use of the deep learning approach in which computers are taught to process data in ways that imitate the human brain. She currently heads Gravita, a technology-enabled accounting firm providing services to small and medium-sized businesses. She previously rose to prominence after founding Fluidly, an award-winning fintech working to transform the way businesses managed their money using artificial intelligence.

"Artificial intelligence and innovation are built into the fabric of society. They're built into the way machines work and how we think about things," Ms Plumb told the audience. "We now need to think about how we can add AI to our experience going forward. I do think it is a force for good."

Ms Plumb said it was concerning, however, that so much AI technology was based around relatively small networks in Silicon Valley. "It would be much more comfortable if those networks were more diverse and more geographically distributed, not to mention better for the environment."

She cautioned that there could be a danger of unintended consequences unless strong regulation was put in place. "I don't think it's realistic to ask those producing AI in the US to self-regulate," she said. "This is an area where the government, more broadly, needs to lead."  

When asked about whether the UK had the infrastructure to support innovation, she said she believed it was a strong place to start a business. Among its many advantages were the skills and ideas that could be drawn from the higher education sector, its time zone, language, legal framework and its approach to intellectual property.

"You can launch a start-up in the UK very quickly," she noted. "What's harder, perhaps, is tapping into capital later and scaling. I think we've got a bit of a funding gap at the scale up part that needs to be closed. People think it's hard to start a business and it's really not – it's about taking that first step and moving on from there. It's about encouraging people so they believe they can do it and will give it a go."

Ms Plumb has spent the past 20 years building innovative businesses. After studying engineering, she founded her first companies aged 21, after graduating from Oxford University. She built them into Freshminds, a successful recruiting business, and Decidedly, an award-winning innovation consultancy developing ideas for a range of clients.

Ms Plumb also served as one of the Prime Minister's Business Ambassadors for eight years, representing the UK in markets including India, Brunei, Singapore, France and Jordan. In 2016, she received an OBE for services to business and charity. 

Her address set the scene for the announcement of the University's inaugural People Awards, recognising staff for achievements reflecting the University's core values – inclusive, innovative, ambitious and enterprising.

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