The revolution of Artificial Intelligence

Article written by Mark Abdilla – Executive, MEUSAC
Published in The Malta Independent – 17.10.19

The world around us is in a constant state of flux. New technological developments are emerging daily in various sectors. Such developments have a direct impact on our way of life, as technology continues to permeate into different strands of our everyday activities. In just a few years, new avenues of innovation and imagination have opened up to the world, particularly in the realm of artificial intelligence (AI). Today, the term AI is a popular buzzword which brings forward numerous discussions and debates on the advantages it offers, as well as its possible setbacks.

AI is the simulation of human intelligence through machines, and the aim of innovation in this sector is to build machines which can reason, learn and act intelligently. Yet, while AI is something which has risen to prominence in recent years, it has actually been around for much longer. In fact, we originally had the idea of automation, where machines are able to carry out certain work through minimal human input. An example of automation would be in assembly lines within a factory, where machines are able to carry out most steps of a manufacturing process on their own.

However, AI is not simply about machines being able to carry out pre-defined tasks. It is about machines being able to respond, in some form or another, to actions being carried out by users. Taking digital games as an example, AI has evolved from being able to compete against a player in a game of Pong, to being able to lead entire nations in modern day strategy games.

Today, the European Union considers AI as being an area of strategic importance and a key driver of economic development, making it a central component of the Digital Single Market. AI can have important implications in terms of the EU’s rate of economic growth, and that of its Member States. In fact, the EU is currently prioritising initiatives to encourage uptake of AI technologies within both the public and private sectors. This includes an increase in the European Commission’s annual investment in AI by 70% under the Horizon 2020 programme. This amounts to around €1.5 billion for the 2018-2020 period. The hope is that such an investment would foster additional initiatives and innovation by Member States and the European private sector.

AI can have significant impacts on various sectors of the Digital Single Market, such as in agriculture and transport. In agriculture, AI can act as a key player in improving the use of fertilisers and pesticides, leading to improved productivity and food quality. AI can also drive forward the idea of self-driving cars, leading to better traffic management and a reduction in road accidents.

There are also a variety of concerns being raised on AI proliferation. These issues are mainly focused on the effects of AI on low-skilled jobs, which could very conceivably be performed by AI in an efficient manner. This leads to more widespread digitisation at the workplace, which translate into the need for more IT skills being needed by the workforce. Ultimately however, the outcomes of AI innovation cannot be pre-determined, and they are shaped by policies across a wide variety of sectors.

At the local level, Malta is looking to become a leader in AI. The aim is for Malta to become a jurisdiction in which local and foreign companies and entrepreneurs can develop, prototype, test and scale AI, and ultimately showcase the value from their innovations. To accomplish this, a National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence was launched during the Delta Summit, which took place between October 2 and October 4. The strategy looks to complement current efforts in making Malta a central hub for digital innovation, particularly in the realms of blockchain and digital game development.

Certainly, AI has established itself as being an important cornerstone in the world economy, and the EU is looking at ensuring its smooth integration into the Digital Single Market. Despite the concerns which arise from its increased use, there is no doubt that AI will be the primary driver for future technological innovation and improvement.

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