Home Estate Planning Mind the cyber skills gap – or the UK will fall short of its tech potential

Mind the cyber skills gap – or the UK will fall short of its tech potential

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The UK is being held back by a rapidly growing skills gap in two disciplines: AI and cybersecurity, writes Jack Stockdale

The government’s AI Safety Summit put the UK on the map when it comes to AI innovation and showed that the UK can truly punch above its weight in the AI industry. We are, however, held back by the same challenge that countries around the world face as they look to seize the AI opportunity – a rapidly growing skills gap in two disciplines: AI and cybersecurity.

The need for more mathematicians, coders and computer scientists to build and train AI models fast enough to steal a march on competitors is obvious, but the AI safety debates of the last 12 months have shown you can’t innovate in AI without ensuring it is safe and secure. 

We’re seeing that already. Criminals are using generative AI to fine-tune the language of phishing emails to catch even extra-wary businesses out. Indeed, Darktrace researchers found a 135 per cent increase in novel social engineering attacks across thousands of Darktrace customers from January to February 2023, in the wake of the public launch of ChatGPT. As AI advances it is lowering the barrier to entry for attackers, and helping them execute more sophisticated attacks.

While we can all see the potential for productivity and innovation from AI, no business wants to adopt a technology that puts them at risk of not only millions of pounds in financial losses but also the loss of sensitive data. Recall the sobering warning from Lloyds of London last October, estimating that a cyberattack in the financial sector could cost the global economy a staggering $3.5 trillion.

The good news for UK businesses is that the UK has the resources to address both of these skills gaps. We have the largest cybersecurity industry in Europe and some of the world’s best institutions in the National Cyber Security Centre and GCHQ working to solve cyber disruption. We’re home to the number one ranked computer science university in the world – the University of Oxford – and we’re ranked fifth in the world for AI research. We have the foundations to produce a wave of talent that will enable two brilliant industries to thrive and put us ahead in the AI race.

To create that wave, however, we need to build on those foundations, and we’ll do that best through better collaboration between businesses and educational institutions.

At Darktrace, we know that better than most. Our technology is built on research pioneered at Cambridge University, and much of our research and development team joins us from institutions in the UK. Strong partnerships have enabled us to recruit a team with a wealth of backgrounds from teachers to linguists to astrophysicists, and that diversity of thought is what has propelled our innovation.

That’s one reason we continue to invest in the UK’s academic strengths and the next generation of tech talent. Last year, we began working with Loughborough University to provide funding and expertise to new doctoral research positions in cybersecurity and AI. We also partnered with Codefirstgirls to recruit female career switchers from under-represented backgrounds into our business, and we’re always looking for new ways to engage the next generation.

The UK has the foundational elements in place to be a major player on the global AI stage. But it’s imperative that businesses leading the charge engage with the next generation of talent. Only then will the rewards be reaped for both partners, creating a new wave of much needed talent and making the UK’s AI leadership potential a reality. 

Jack Stockdale is chief technology officer at Darktrace

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