Web Summit: What will be AI's biggest impact over the next year?
A view of the main stage at Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal, November 13, 2023. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Zoe Tabary
What’s the context?
From job losses to speedier data analysis, Web Summit attendees tell us where they see AI going in the next year
- Web Summit focused heavily on AI
- Global experts spoke on the labour market, creators, and regulation
- Hopes for AI potential, concerns around user data and layoffs
LISBON - From job displacement to regulation, artificial intelligence (AI) is the main focus of Web Summit in Lisbon, one of the world's largest tech conferences, dominating the conversation on and off the stage.
Academics, policymakers, entrepreneurs and other experts from around the world debated how it is impacting the labour market and creators, and how governments can best regulate the technology.
We spoke to four tech experts about what they see as AI's single biggest impact on society over the next year:
Andrew Sullivan - chief executive officer and president, Internet Society
"The biggest impact may well not be the way AI affects the society, but how our reaction to AI will affect us. 'AI' is a catch-all term for many different techniques — some of them are pretty old and some of them are new.
We are writing laws and regulations to respond to these different parts of a sometimes immature technology, partly out of fear. That is always a dangerous way to write rules and laws."
Ramesh Srinivasan - professor of information studies, University of California, Los Angeles
"Over the year, we've seen how various corporations are investing in AI. I think it's part of a larger story: cutting thousands of jobs.
The goal is for corporations to monetise these AI systems to replace and supplant, and therefore cut costs, for a range of different work as we know it. We saw it in the Writers' Guild strike, and the specific demands about large language models are part of the issue.
The main concern I have is how this adds to the incredibly troubling problems we have around economic security, precarity, and inequality.
It is critical that we figure out measures now - if not now, when? - that can ensure these systems lift everybody up.
But also, because of the hype around the technology, it tends to block us from any sort of open questioning about what it is and how the systems function."
Bryan Talebi – chief executive officer, Ahura AI
"Over the next year, the biggest impact on society from AI is in the corporate sector. AI tools like Generative AI, LLM's, personalization tools, and digital twins are rapidly increasing productivity of workers by 10 times.
This will create downward pressure on hiring and headcount, and cause many companies to lay off significant numbers of employees, though they will likely blame the layoffs on macroeconomic factors.
Additionally, learning personalization tools like Ahura AI and others will enable people to rapidly upskill and reskill to adapt to new jobs."
Jon Stephenson von Tetzchner – co-founder of Vivaldi Technologies
"With AI, it's a question of what you use the technology for. There are interesting experiments on certain things, (but) on the other hand I think it can do a lot of damage.
AI in many ways, like big data, is a popularity contest. Whatever gets recognised as a pattern is something that will become an answer to questions – although not necessarily the right answer.
I'm concerned about the companies that are leading the way on this, as they have a bad reputation with regards to user data and their focus.
On the other hand, I really see a lot of startups trying to find certain angles to this and build something useful like helping solve cancer.
In the browser space, there's some interesting ways to use AI for voice recognition and command generation – I see the potential and I see the risk, especially if you're talking about collecting more data."
(Reporting by Adam Smith; editing by Zoe Tabary.)
- Future of work
- Tech regulation
- Data rights