Rise of AI masks some uncomfortable realities

In the clamour of continual negative news surrounding Brexit, one could be forgiven for thinking that dilemmas around the backstop and border issues are the only game in town concerning Irish business. However, lurking in the shadows, the gathering momentum of artificial intelligence, or AI, represents another multi-faceted development concerning CEOs in the ever-changing landscape of modern business.

In a recent PwC survey, almost half of Irish respondents agreed that AI will be the next key gamechanger for business, and will have an impact on the world even greater than that of the internet revolution. While a strong majority believe AI will significantly change the way business is done over the coming five years, fewer than half admitted to having plans to pursue AI initiatives, compared to 77% globally.

“Global CEOs are anticipating the AI revolution more so than Irish CEOs”, said PwC Ireland’s David Lee, adding that the survey suggests business leaders need to invest more in AI to keep up with international competitors and to fully leverage competitive advantage.

“They need to understand how AI can be applied in their businesses and ensure their organisations have the right talent, data and technology to fully exploit AI opportunities.”

Artificial intelligence has already made a firm beachhead in our everyday lives, ranging from voice-controlled personal assistants like Siri and Alexa to home convenience automations like heat monitoring, energy controls, lighting regulation and entertainment on demand. Coming down the line are improved banking security measures, facial recognition programmes, superior traffic management and a more comprehensive deployment of telemedicine.

AI will play an increasingly important security role within organisations in its ability to replicate the analytical processes of human intelligence by employing algorithms to process and analyse information from a variety of sources, and acting on the insights derived from such data at tremendous speeds.

However, AI is already becoming a favoured tool of international criminals keen to use its prodigious capabilities to exploit system vulnerabilities in a cyber war of far greater proportions.

By 2021, it is estimated global cybercrime will cost upwards of €5tn annually as increasing digitisation offers criminal opportunity in areas such as cloud infrastructure ransom, software-as-a-service attacks and internet-of-things penetration.

Ironically, as companies embrace the commercial advantages offered by AI, it may also place them at risk of illicit threats planted within that self same system.

At the annual meeting of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres highlighted how AI and similar new technologies have the potential to create new forms of crime.

Cybercrime is an area in which there is much work to do and no time to waste. New technologies, including big data and analytics, artificial intelligence and automation, are ushering in a transformative era, sometimes called the fourth industrial revolution.

“Despite the benefits such progress brings, it also enables new forms of crime. Heaven forbid, any new war could very well include a massive cyber-attack not only targeting military capacities, but also critical civilian infrastructure.”

In tandem with worries around cyber crime, AI also suffers the perception of being the advance guard of an era where machines will take over vast swathes of the workforce.

While an impact on jobs is likely, it is only half the story. A recent Gartner report predicted that by 2020, AI will generate 2.3 million jobs, especially in education, healthcare and the public sector, considerably exceeding the 1.8 million it is expected to replace.

The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.

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