Governments are getting smart about Artificial Intelligence
AI is hoped to charge productivity, facilitate economic growth, and enhance social mobility. These benefits, alongside others, have led governments to think carefully about their aptitude for AI. National AI strategies are now fairly common, developed with the goals of encouraging talent, unlocking economic value, and building trust in technology. Government involvement en masse shows just how important AI adoption is as an indicator of social and economic stability. Why are officials so interested in AI, and what does their increased involvement mean for businesses?
What, where, when
Singapore’s government led AI Singapore initiative sums up the goal of official involvement in AI nicely: “To anchor deep national capabilities in Artificial Intelligence, thereby creating social and economic impacts, grow local talent, build an AI ecosystem and put (Singapore) on the world map.”
One country working towards AI domination is China who explicitly stated they wish to become the global leader in Artificial Intelligence. Across the pond, the US has also made some notable moves. In 2018, the White House hosted the first AI Summit, Congress made provisions for a 2019 National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, and the Department of Defense’s DARPA agency announced a $2bn investment in new AI systems.
Perhaps Europe could pose a challenge to China and the US. At the beginning of December, the EU released its Coordinated Plan on Artificial Intelligence. The plan stating that AI can help to solve some of the world’s biggest challenges, and deems it to be the main driver of productivity and economic growth in European industries.
Some European countries are acting on their own initiative. Finland’s strategy is to train a tiny proportion of the population (one per cent) in the basic concepts of AI, gradually expanding the programme to become a world leader in ‘practical applications’.
Aside from the obvious economic and social advantages, businesses have a lot to gain from government involvement in AI. If a government begins to openly endorse any given research area, companies who are working in that sphere stand to gain funding, interest, support, resources, trust, and publicity. One potential area of contention, however, is regulation. While regulation is undoubtedly necessary, it can also slow the rate of innovation. For the most part, though, government involvement is constructive.
AI or die
Artificial Intelligence is such a powerful, far reaching tool that the consequences of inaction could be severe. In their simplest form, national AI strategies aim to encourage development so that countries can advance at a competitive rate. Without a coherent government led strategy, organisations may be less likely to work together. Governments also play a major role in funding and providing other opportunities for early stage companies. Talent is already a global problem, but governments have the resources to seek and foster talent. They can act as a centre of discussion between academia and business.
While governments shouldn’t be relied upon to push AI initiatives, they should recognise that supporting technological growth is in the interest of a country. Choosing to ignore the upwards trajectory of AI is missing an opportunity for industry, and may lead to economic crisis. If a workforce is ill equipped or unable to deal with the impact of automation, employees are unlikely to take on new, complementary roles.
Encouraging the understanding of AI and technology puts people in a much stronger position to benefit from it and embrace automation and collaboration. The majority of German workers, for example, don’t exhibit a fear of automation. It’s partly because of this that the country has sustained the third highest robot density in the world. There are of course social problems to keep in mind. Technological inequality could limit access to products, services, education, and other opportunities.
Guiding the government
What can businesses do to encourage governing powers to keep supporting AI? It’s perhaps as simple as producing quality AI products and applications so the government can see that its investment has been put to good use. Also, businesses can actively lobby individuals and departments, giving input to research, and running educational and awareness programmes that keep AI in the limelight.
Fortunately, Artificial Intelligence is already making such great headway that businesses don’t have to force their governments into AI debates. Many potential benefits are plain to see – as are the consequences of inaction. The real question is whether governments are doing enough to ride the AI tide, and build a national environment that can support and sustain technological growth.
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