Alliance Manchester Business School - AMBS
Article By
Michelle Carter

Michelle Carter

Professor of Information Systems and EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion) Lead at AMBS

Digital Divide

Are we doing enough to ensure AI impacts our lives in truly beneficial ways?

Michelle Carter discusses challenges to overcome if technology is to be used for both social good and improved business performance.

Every day we hear about the ways in which AI is transforming business. But are we thinking enough about how AI is benefiting us in our own everyday lives and the potentially unintended consequences of our headlong rush to a brave new world?

For instance, in the academic world there's a growing conversation about whether the speed of change is compromising our ability to conduct research in ways that are responsible and have impact. And when it comes to education, AI's role is expanding so rapidly it feels like we're only scratching the surface of understanding its full implications for teaching and learning.

Yet regulatory frameworks simply aren't evolving fast enough to ensure AI's integration into society mirrors its benefits to business. It's the delicate balance between innovation and regulation, progress, and precaution, that we must navigate to ensure that technology is being used for social good as well as improved business performance.

Customer service

A good example of AI’s integration into society is how it is revolutionising customer service by handling routine inquiries swiftly, freeing humans to tackle more complex issues.

But while AI chatbots are becoming standard for many organisations, they also bring new challenges. It can be hard enough getting a good customer service experience when staff are well trained (think of all those hours we spend on the phone trying to explain a problem and finding a solution). A good customer service experience requires more than trained staff and demands empathy and adaptability - qualities that AI doesn't have but is trying to mimic.

Imagine how bad things could get if we layer AI on poor customer service. In that scenario there is only one result - we find ourselves in an endless loop of unhelpful automated responses, with no access to the human assistance we often need.

Social good

Consider also that not everyone in society has access to digital tools. Take the use of AI chatbots in healthcare which promise to streamline processes, manage appointments, track symptoms, educate patients, and provide medication reminders.

However, for the elderly these advances can seem less like progress and more like exclusion.

According to Age UK, 6 million older people in the UK are either not online or struggle to navigate the internet safely. That's around one in five people over the age of 65 who might find themselves on the fringes of a healthcare system that's rapidly moving away from traditional communication methods.

While great at managing appointments, chatbots are not within reach for the 2.3 million older people in the UK without internet access or the 3.3 million who don't use a smartphone. What's more, nearly a million people in this demographic don't use mobile phones at all. They're at risk of being sidelined in an age when booking a medical appointment or even getting a disability permit is just a few clicks or swipes away for the rest.

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It strikes me that we’re confronting a curious conundrum in our modern lives with the widening chasm between the pace of technological change and our capacity as human beings to adapt. It's not just about older people grappling with smartphones and online services either - the rapid obsolescence of technology skills is starting to nip at the heels of those considerably younger too.

This presents us with a stark paradox. As our lifespans extend, so does the breadth of our digital engagements, yet the mastery of each new technological iteration seems more fleeting.

As an educator in information systems, I am acutely aware that we need to bridge this gap. How do we equip our students, and ourselves, with enduring digital skills that will serve us not just now, but well into our longer, digitally-oriented futures?

Legal battleground?

Another looming question also shadows the AI industry. What if the foundation on which AI's capabilities are built - the vast amounts of data it requires - becomes a legal battleground?

Recent lawsuits have been challenging the way such data is sourced and should courts decide that data acquisition methods don't qualify as 'fair use', the AI landscape could face a seismic shift. In particular, the cost of licensing existing data could become exorbitant, forcing companies to rethink their models.

A sudden halt in the use of AI could be disorienting. If we're forced to unplug from these AI services, even temporarily, the withdrawal would not only affect convenience but also challenge how we've structured efficiency and knowledge acquisition.


At this summer's Americas Conference on Information Systems (AMCIS), where I'm co-chair, we will be addressing these very issues.

How can we continue to harness the potential of AI and other technological advances in ways that respect legal and ethical boundaries? How can we make these technologies more accessible and beneficial for everyone? And how can we balance the push towards digitalisation with the need for traditional, non-digital access points so that no-one is excluded from essential services?

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