The state of cloud adoption and connectivity in the Nordics – Data Economy

There is no doubt that AI is up-and-coming. But, as Back tothe Future proves, only a handful of futuristic predictions end up becomingreality. Its best to speak to experts on where AI might be heading in thecoming years. Todays innovative business leaders are the ones implementing andexperimenting with AI, and they are our best bet for understanding its future.

Last year, I was invited to speak at the Boardroom Club.Among this network of C-suite executives, business leaders and technicalexperts, predictions were shared on how businesses can extract value from AI inthe future.

From growing the economy to increasing corporateresponsibility and transforming employment, AI could cause seismic changes overthe coming decade. To find true value, businesses must keep ahead of the curve.

AI must move out ofthe lab for the economy to bounce back

The clear consensus was that it has been a challenging yearfor business. With global economic growth hovering around 3%, 2019 has seen theslowest rate of expansion since the Great Recession.

Many factors are weighing on the global economy, but one ofthe most persistent challenges felt by participants has been flatliningproductivity the value of output created by workers.

Its premature to claim that AI will ride to the rescue, butit will make a big difference. When it comes to improving productivity, themost significant development over the next few years will be theoperationalisation of AI in organisations.

This means the innovations, new algorithms and technologiesdeveloped in R&D will finally be rolled out and integrated into the rest ofthe organisation.

These deployments will happen quickly and at scale. Theyllgive swathes of employees access to AI tools that will liberate them frommundane, repetitive tasks and give them invaluable insight into the challengesand opportunities of the organisation.

Staff will be empowered with better decision making andadded time to focus on innovation and creating strategic value for theircompany, boosting productivity and profits. PWC expects this uplift will add$15tn to global GDP by 2030.

Yet where will the catalyst for this transformation comefrom? In recent years, organisations have invested in teams of data scientistsand other innovators to brainstorm digital transformation and AI projects.

However, while these new entrants bring creativity andexpertise, they often lack the business context to actually translate theirideas into reality.

This has contributed to the dreaded last mile ofanalytical implementations, where according to IDC only 35% of organisationssay analytical models are fully deployed in production.

An innovative AI project is all well and good, but whatvalue does it generate for the business and where should it be deployed? Thisis a question most have so far failed to answer.

Building the bridge between an interesting idea and apractical project that generates real value has long been a struggle.

However, this will change as more innovative ideas aregenerated from the business side of the organisation. Ordinary employees willbe encouraged and rewarded to propose applications for AI that will optimiseand transform how they work. Technology will also play its part to make thingseasier, thanks to the speed and flexibility offered through cloud deploymentsand containerisation.

Pressure is famously applied downwards, and inevitably itwill be the C-Suite that fuels much of this transformation.

Executives are waking up to the value of AI and, crucially,are seeing their rivals achieve success with the technology. Thats whyoperationalisation will accelerate and reach fever pitch before the close ofthe decade.

Tightening regulationcreates an opportunity for better AI ethics

Unconscious bias is a growing concern as AI takes on moreand more of our most important decisions. Given time and attention, well beginto see its causes which primarily boil down to unrepresentative data sets anddata quality issues addressed.

Its understandable, however, to be skeptical of majorimprovements in the short term. One participant argued that AI would fail to beunbiased much in the way human decisions display prejudice and lead to unfairoutcomes.

This would be the case so long as AI relies on ungovernedbig data that is, the historical data humans already use to make decisionstoday without the appropriate governance controls in place. In thisenvironment, the same imperfect insights would lead to the same unbalancedoutcomes.

Im more optimistic, however. The change wont necessarilycome from how AI uses data, but rather the attitude of businesses towards thedata they hold.

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The old maxim garbage in, garbage out still definitelyapplies to AI. Yet, we shouldnt underestimate the will of organisations toimprove, take notice and take responsibility for their systems.

I think were bound to see greater corporate responsibilitytowards the technology in the years to come. This will partly be due totightening regulation. In the same way the Cambridge Analytica scandal shone alight on data privacy and abuse, were likely to see a similar watershed caseof AI gone wrong.

Updated AI ethics guidelines are to be presented to theEuropean Commission in early 2020, but these will only be the thin edge of awedge as governments legislate to place boundaries on the technology. Companieswill need to adapt or pay the price.

However, the biggest driver of all will be consumer demand.Some may think theres no economic incentive to building ethical AI, but Ithink they underestimate how powerful a competitive advantage ethics can be.

Business is founded on trust, and consumers are far morelikely to share their data if they feel your AI system will keep it safe.

Organisations will take responsibility in many differentways. To avoid negative outcomes, AI creators will start introducing controlsto ensure their creations cant use data in an unethical manner.

Greater emphasis will be placed on the training of AIsystems and the process for reviewing decisions will be strengthened. On theend user side, companies will also begin holding decision makers to account forthe choices they make based on AI-generated insight.

The job market androle responsibilities will be transformed by AI

Discussions on AI will inevitably turn to automation and joblosses. Yet all too often the potential of AI to actually create new roles isoverlooked.

Technological advances have rendered many professionsredundant down through history, but equally they have given birth to entire newindustries and fields of employment. After all, how many app developers did youknow 10 years ago?

In fact, 59% of the Boardroom Club believed AI wouldincrease employment levels, not decrease them.

Despite some fears, I think what well see in the next fewyears is a jobs migration rather than a jobs reduction.

Organisations will move into new areas, aided by the latestAI technologies, opening new opportunities for their staff.

Its difficult to predict what these new roles will looklike, though were already seeing signs of the shape they could take.

Skills in AI development will be highly prized asorganisations constantly seek to compete and innovate their models and algorithms.

Equally, as organisations take greater responsibility fortheir data and AI systems, more validation and screening focused roles willemerge.

Humans still trump AI when it comes to the understanding ofcontext, so theyre ideally placed to review AI decisions to make sure they arefair and accurate.

Of course, as with every technology revolution there will bean adjustment period. Some workers dependent on low-skilled, manual andrepetitive work will no doubt see employment opportunities diminish as roboticprocess automation solutions are rolled out.

Thats why its so important for reskilling and education tobegin as early as possible. Im confident both government and businesses willcontinue to invest in British workers and explore new ways of training them upto participate in the future economy.

AI is bringing significant changes to businesses right now.As the rate of change increases over this decade, we will start to feel AIseffects as new insight is discovered and jobs move away from repetitive tasks.

Inevitably, there will be changes that not even the businessleaders of the Boardroom Club can detect.

Organisations must stay open-minded in the face of oncoming transformation; though tricky at first, integrating AI harmoniously into processes could be the key to smashing business goals this decade.

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