UK regions are currently wrestling with two grand challenges: a) the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the emergence of a data driven economy and b) globalisation, deindustrialisation and growing social and spatial inequalities. Spurred by the 2017 UK Government White Paper Industrial Strategy: Building a Britain fit for the future the former will energise a Fourth Industrial Revolution; the latter has already aggravated the UKs North-South divide, led to a vote to Brexit the EU and generated a demand that future growth be inclusive.
It is a particular concern for cities, city regions and even rural areas in the Northern Powerhouse that these two specific forces have the potential to unfold in deep contradiction and tension here. Firstly, the 2017 White Paper observes that AI ecosystems are already more developed in some UK regions; London, Edinburgh, Bristol, Cambridge and Edinburgh. Will these regions benefit from this head start so as to further entrench uneven geographical development and open up a new productivity gap between them and the Northern Powerhouse? Secondly, whilst the impact of AI on the labour market is the subject of much debate, it is likely that it will polarise income inequalities, creating more very high and very low paying jobs at the expense of a squeezed middle. Once machines replace human beings: No Humans Need Apply!