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Will AI ease or exacerbate global instability? – Science|Business

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Our Chief Communications Officer, Cathrin Stöver, speaks to Science Business on Africa and connectivity. 

Original article by David Pringle on Science Business

When it comes to capitalising on artificial intelligence and data analytics, some countries and companies are streaking ahead of others. That was the view of some of the speakers participating in an online Science|Business workshop exploring the Great Global Data Divide.

Describing the “worrisome” network effects that are concentrating artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities in the hands of a few, Nicolas van Zeebroeck, professor of digital economics and strategy at the Université libre de Bruxelles, said: “It’s quite clear that the imbalances you see growing in terms of profit accumulation, but also in terms of skills and data concentration, for instance, are a potential source of instability at every level.” In a similar vein, research by the International Monetary Fund has warned of “a great divergence” driven by AI and robotics (see chart).

For van Zeebroeck, the “two animals” that policymakers need to tame are “insufficient labour and social mobility within and across countries, and growing barriers to entry and innovation due to the accumulation of data and skills” in a few hands.  He noted that the development of effective AI requires a combination of the right data, the right skills, the right culture, the right infrastructure and the right software. “You need the full ecosystem in place and that is what Europe and the developing countries need to invest in,” he added.

But how much should they invest? While it is clear that both countries and companies need to capture data and put it to work, assigning a monetary value to this activity is very difficult. “Many economists, including those of the OECD, are trying to understand how to value [data] and how to understand its worth,” noted Audrey Plonk, head of the Digital Economy Policy Division, Directorate for Science, Technology and Innovation of the OECD. “And that’s a tricky, tricky puzzle.”

In terms of patent applications and research collaboration, “we see the United States and China very far ahead of a lot of other countries, including the EU, if you take it as a bloc” Plonk added. “We’re releasing some new data in the next few weeks on [venture capital] investments, and in there, you’ll see the United States is way, way ahead of even China and everywhere else.” However, she cautioned that such metrics only tell part of the story and don’t necessarily imply a widening gap.

In addition to public sector investment in research and development and skills, a coherent national strategy can be important. “We’ve seen a proliferation of national AI strategies in the last two years,” Plonk said. “The minute that the government puts some high level targets in place […] it inspires a whole bunch of activity, both in the private sector and in the public sector. ”

Read the full article on Science Business.

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