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Artificial Intelligence for Governments - Benefits & Vulnerability - by Alessandro Civati

Artificial Intelligence for Governments – Benefits & Vulnerability

Governments worldwide are adopting artificial intelligence with lots of enthusiasm in a bid to stay ahead of technological advancements. Both governments and corporates are keen to include AI in their business development processes and other applications.

More than 22 countries have already put together and launched their national AI strategies to incorporate AI into business development. Additionally, ethical frameworks have been formulated that are meant to guide how AI technologies are developed. In the European Union alone, there were more than 290 AI policy initiatives in the member states between 2016 and 2020.

The most recent AI strategy was launched in Ireland and has been aptly named “AI – Here for Good”. Ireland has captured in the strategy how it aims to become an international leader in using AI to uplift its economy and society. Through a people-centered and ethical approach, Ireland seeks to adopt AI for its development. Ireland aims to promote AI adoption by Irish businesses and government agencies through an ethical and moral framework. Experts have highlighted that the strategy has some shortcomings, just like strategies adopted by other countries that don’t address bad AI strategies such as unwarranted surveillance.

Run of the Mill Strategies

The strategies adopted by some countries simply join the bandwagon of hype and hysteria that has accompanied AI adoption. There has been the notion that AI is one of the most important developments in human history, just like fire and electricity.

Ireland’s AI strategy follows the hype by stating that the technology can double economic growth by 2035. No details were provided to indicate how such a fete can be achieved using AI. In fact, large multinationals such as Google have re-tweaked their business model to reflect its dependency on AI. According to Sundar Pichai, the chief executive of Google’s parent company Alphabet, the company’s business model depends on AI and people trusting the technology. AI is central to digital platforms’ functioning and performance, including Amazon, Google, Facebook, Alibaba, and Apple. These large multinational companies enjoy a winner-takes-all approach due to the large amounts of data and first-mover advantage. The profitability of these platforms increases as the data collected grows exponentially and for simply being the first to get it right. Sadly, these companies have employed monopolistic tendencies and turned into gatekeepers in the AI industry.

Ireland’s strategy lauds some of the existing AI-based apps that have had a significant impact. One such app has helped improve cycling infrastructure in Dublin. Other popular AI-based apps in Ireland provide Irish language tools, comfort people suffering from dementia, and help save energy across businesses and households. From these applications of AI, it becomes difficult to see how they could help double economic growth.

Weaknesses of AI

The big digital platforms have negatively affected existing businesses by out-competing them sometimes unfairly. One notable example is how Google dominated and disrupted the advertisement-driven industry, basically the online search engine. For example, Google has out-competed the traditional model of newspapers, and even how Apple has been able to sell more watches than the traditional Swiss watch industry.

These large platforms have also severely affected start-ups finding it challenging to thrive amidst rising competition. Additionally, these IT behemoths have gobbled up any potential new competitors. It has led to a stifling of innovation in the sector since entrepreneurs cannot compete against all these platforms. For example, small businesses have been at the mercy of abuses, including fraudulent product reviews from competitors, and unfair rulings by the same gatekeepers who determine the rules in an opaque and unpredictable manner, sudden changes of their algorithms that lead to unexpected changes for the business that makes them less visible to potential customers. These monopolistic and unfair practices have had the most severe impact on digital subsistence entrepreneurs who can barely earn a living.

The competition landscape is heavily skewed to the big digital platforms. The anti-competition landscape has been labeled platform capitalism and is causing regulators and antitrust authorities unending problems. In a bid to address the abuses by the large AI-based digital platforms, the EU has prepared proposals for a Digital Markets Act (DMA) and Digital Services Act (DSA). Some of the big promises of automation and AI as a once-in-a-lifetime invention are yet to be realized. Instead, we have seen things contrary to exponential labor productivity projections and rising unemployment due to the widespread adoption of AI.

Most AI strategies adopted by different countries, including Ireland, ignore the above-listed challenges. Most strategies don’t reference the big digital platforms such as Amazon, Google, and Facebook, no mentions of platform capitalism, antitrust actions taken against Google by the EU, the DSA, and the DMA.

Any AI strategies should outline how and applicable timelines on how AI is expected to achieve the outlined economic benefits and the people or industries expected to reap them. Besides, the strategy should address how the country should address the issues of platform capitalism to avoid any country becoming just a mere agent of these big digital platforms.

Finally, the lack of trust in AI is never addressed in these strategies. In most instances, the lack of trust has been attributed to a scanty understanding of the technology. There should be an effort to teach people about AI and data science. However, it’s feared that the more people understand AI, the more they will not trust the technology. The lack of trust even by businesses has led to meager adoption rates fearing that it will not make business sense with paltry returns and a very high environmental impact.

AI is not a magic wand that can be waved at problems. Any strategy has to consider data protection, privacy issues, and cutting back on carbon dioxide emissions.

Author: Alessandro Civati

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