In a little over a year the world of AI and machine learning, indeed the world itself, seems to have been turned on its head. The arrival in the public consciousness of generative AI in the form of the seemingly ubiquitous generative AI models has created more than a stir, with ChatGPT-4 now playing a role akin to that of the Cabbage Patch Kids forty years ago by selling out in the run up to Christmas.
As we look ahead to 2024, then, what should we be thinking about when it comes to AI? In spite of what you may have seen this year in Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning or The Creator we (probably) should not worry too much about the robot overlords coming to crush our will, take our jobs or run off with our wives and/or husbands. However you might like to think about the extent to which AI has already seeped into our conversations, collaborations and consciousness. This is not just about jaunty Papal memes nor other aspects of the zeitgeist: more and more organisations, large and small, are incorporating AI models into their business models.
Everyone is rightly excited by the potential for AI to become the most powerful tool since the internet itself. Almost everyone is jumping on the AI bandwagon. Take the so called ‘Big Four’. PWC announced a $1bn investment in AI and a partnership with Microsoft and OpenAI. Not to be outdone, Accenture saw their bid and raised it to $3bn. EY has a flashy new EY.ai (it rhymes, nearly) ‘platform’ (no, not just a website) and is a partner with… Microsoft. Indeed, EY has proudly boasted that it now uses generative AI to support its core accounting functions: funnily enough, you cannot find that automated processing of personal data on their privacy notice, but they have BCRs, so that’s all right, then… KPMG? Well, they got engaged to, er, Microsoft, just in time for the blowback from the Sam Altman OpenAI shenanigans. Hats off to Microsoft for being non-exclusive, though, like all good millennials*. You have to wonder what Accenture said not to get the offer to go bedhopping in Redmond.
You might think that these behemoths may be more circumspect because they have been burnt already. Then again, maybe not: the AI gold rush promises all the things they love most: overpriced consultancy services, flashy but useless tools and the opportunity to ‘rightsize’ your organisation.
Should we worry about AI, then? Well, you probably should worry a little if you come from the Global South and want a job in the northern hemisphere, or simply wish to walk down the street or into a supermarket without being profiled by a facial recognition tool which is only a little less biased than the security guard who can smell the wrong’uns. If you fancy a career in public life – or any kind of internet or social media presence – you might want to think about how easily deep fakes can generated and used for ill – or you could worry about old fashioned identity theft (which still exists, by the way).
Whether we like it or not, AI is here and not going away in a hurry. Without throwing open our arms to the robot overlords, then, how should we respond? What can we expect in 2024? In addition to the plethora of new legislation, such as the EU's freshly minted AI Act, one ting of which we can be reasonably certain (perhaps even more certain than the EU's freshly minted AI Act getting held up in the European Parliament) is that the enthusiasm for AI will continue undimmed. Too many people have invested too much for this to be derailed by a simple catastrophe caused by some manipulated drones or a rigged election.
There may be trouble ahead but while there's moonlight add music and love and romance, there will also be Bards (and chatbots, CoPilots &c.). What we need to see is a little less action and a little more conversation. Specifically we need responsible AI to be more than a phrase that looks good on a unifying platform website. AI without ethics is like Batman without his cape: impressive looking but likely to come to some serious harm when attempting to jump heroically off a tall building. We welcome the opportunities that AI brings but we recognise that we also need to embrace good governance, good design and good intentions. Mind you, as my mother used to say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions so I recommend that you start with good governance and good design.
* I know: Microsoft, being born in 1975, are technically Generation X – please send complaints to the editor along with your marketing consent.