The rapid emergence of generative AI on the public stage has already sparked a myriad of potential and real productivity gains for workers in almost every industry. Domitille Doat, Sandra Bertay and Nicolas Debock are eager that European policy makers, educators and business leaders should embrace the opportunities presented by the new technology.
Seizing the opportunities offered by Generative AI
After more than a decade of discreet research and development, far from the glare of public attention, generative AI sprang almost fully-formed onto the world stage at the end of last year.
Today, only months after the first models were unveiled, the Gen AI industry already ranks as a full-fledged money-making industry in its own right, with a market size currently estimated at an annual $10 billion and expected to grow tenfold within 10 years.
With so many applications already under development, there is now no stopping the full-scale deployment of this smart technology, especially as it opens such huge opportunities to boost productivity and improve working lives in virtually every business sector.
However, in order for the tremendous potential of Gen AI to be realized, society as a whole, and each of us individually, needs to be ambitious about how to make the most of its opportunities. At the same time, of course, we need to be clear-eyed and lucid about how to respond to the legitimate risks inherent in any revolution on such a scale.
In Europe especially, we have no time to waste. Getting our collective response to Gen AI right - by setting collaborative standards and encouraging further significant investment - is a particularly sensitive issue in Europe today, when the region’s industrial competitiveness and technological sovereignty are real issues of concern.
As we see it, a failure by Europe to embrace the new technology carries three main risks.
Beware the brain drain
The first risk would arise from Europe not matching the level of investment that we are witnessing in North America and Asia. This could result in a crippling brain drain as European experts head to where they can find the means to fund their research. There are already precious few individuals in the world with the necessary intelligence, skills, and experience to develop and train Gen AI models. If the ability of any Europeans to pursue innovative work on large language learning models were impended at home, they would be quickly lured abroad, an effective death knell for Europe’s ability to innovate.
Industries have to engage if they want to stay in the game
The second, related risk lies in any failure by politicians, business leaders and educators to grasp the real importance of what is afoot here.
The advent of Gen AI is already provoking a significant shift within the global marketplace, and substantial productivity gains, as machine-based learning models start to allow many jobs to be replaced by machines. Any short-sighted – but perhaps well-intentioned – attempt to protect those jobs by refusing to adopt Gen AI would in fact have the opposite effect. This is because any companies that failed to adopt the new technology and benefit from the productive gains it delivers would soon be left behind their faster-moving, more innovative rivals, condemning them to obsolescence.
That means the biggest mistake any individual business leader could make today would be to think that Gen AI is an issue to be delegated to their company’s IT department. It isn’t. The questions raised by the advent of AI are an existential issue, requiring strategic C-suite engagement and heavy capital expenditure investment.
Schools must teach, students must learn
A similarly urgent wake-up call needs to go out to the educational establishment. Every institution of learning, from primary school level all the way up to university programs should include a module dedicated to certain key concepts underlying artificial intelligence and its ramifications. It’s a chilling thought that in some countries, for example, law schools still haven’t integrated Gen AI as a discipline in their curricula, leaving the next generation of lawyers and regulators blind and ignorant of some of the greatest challenges society faces.
Holding society together
The third risk of any failure by the population as a whole to engage ambitiously with Gen AI is one of social cohesion. The danger would be to allow it to widen any inequality in our system. Alarmingly, even though the new technology is a game-changer for every aspect of society – including government, the workplace, schools, and even our leisure time – women, for example, are currently entirely absent from the table. This means that without a broad-based strategy of education and inclusion at every level, we could see severe backsliding in terms of diversity and inclusion. What’s more, it is likely to widen the gap between the digital haves and have-nots.
Opening up the black box
Holding back from Gen AI today would be a major mistake, despite the alarmist cries of some. To be fair, those nay-sayers have one legitimate point related to the unaccountability of the current “black box” approach of the first Gen AI providers. Because they do not disclose the origin of the data being used by the generative models, there is a real risk of exposure that data could be manipulated, and also that illicit use of protected material could spark long and complex copyright battles.
In fact, this shift to a more transparent model is already underway, as the more innovative tech companies push for an “open source” approach and some start to offer “AI as a service”, allowing companies to open their own data libraries to service providers who can then help clients to realize the full potential of all their available resources.
This sort of initiative is crucial to overcoming fears, and accelerating the whole-hearted embrace of the technology we must see from EU members. Collaboration in Gen AI within Europe is essential if we are to keep up with the rest of the world. The need for massive investment is key and will not come without a safe environment in which the scientific community feels protected and the financial community can see the opportunities.
This is the kind of enthusiastic and innovative approach to the new technology that will allow us all to make the most of Gen AI, boosting productivity and delivering its full potential to society.