Exploring the future of AI with Annelore Verhagen, Economist, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

Posted by World Summit AI on Oct 3, 2023 1:00:49 PM
World Summit AI

Ahead of World Summit AI (11th-12th October 2023, Taets Art & Event Park, Amsterdam), we asked Annelore Verhagen, Economist, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, her thoughts on the future of AI.

As an expert in the field, what critical challenges do you believe the AI community needs to address to ensure responsible & and ethical AI deployment?

Ensuring responsible and ethical AI deployment requires a framework for how to work with AI, complemented by concrete, actionable and enforceable implementation plans. One of the critical challenges in this context is the risk of a fragmentation of efforts, which could unnecessarily harm innovation and create regulatory gaps. Fostering international collaboration is essential for mitigating this challenge effectively.

How has AI impacted your specific field of expertise, and what transformative changes do you foresee in the near future?
One of the most notable impacts of AI on our work as labour economists is that it has accelerated the pace at which we need to assess changes in the labour market and help countries respond to them. The impact of digital technologies on the demand for labour and skills has been a longstanding topic of research and policymaking, but recent advancements in AI have revitalised this discussion, highlighting the unique attributes that set AI apart from previous digital transformations.
For instance, AI considerably broadens the spectrum of automatable tasks, extending beyond routine and non-cognitive functions
it is a general-purpose technology, impacting nearly every sector and profession
and the speed of development is unprecedented. Using AI in the workplace also brings about specific ethical questions, which have taken center stage in my current research.
How do you envision AI shaping various industries, and what advice would you give to businesses seeking to integrate AI into their operations?
AI's capacity to automate a wide variety of tasks, including non-routine cognitive tasks, has the potential to impact all industries and job roles. This is unlike other technologies, such as robots, whose impacts are often confined to specific sectors. In many industries, AI holds great promise for improving workplaces, for instance by increasing productivity and improving workplace safety by automating tedious or hazardous tasks. Yet, using AI also comes with risks for job displacement and fundamental rights.
My advice to businesses seeking to integrate AI into their operations would therefore be to put in place governance measures to ensure a trustworthy use of the technology. For example, businesses adopting AI should enable workers in reaping the benefits of AI, notably by providing training to interact with AI and discussing the adoption of technologies with them. Moreover, not only governments, international organisations and regulators, but also businesses have an important role to play in developing standards and guidelines for how to work with AI, in line with national and international regulations on issues such as bias, privacy, and transparency in AI systems.
In your opinion, what opportunities and challenges does AI present for job markets and workforce development worldwide?

Even better than an opinion, I can rely on data and scientific literature on exactly these topics. The OECD recently published its annual Employment Outlook (see https://doi.org/10.1787/19991266), this year with a specific focus on AI and the labour market. We find that, while concerns about a jobless future exist, AI's influence on employment levels has been relatively limited thus far. For the time being, more than replacing jobs, AI is changing them and the skills that are required to carry them out, as well as job quality. Both workers and employers acknowledge that AI can alleviate tedious and dangerous tasks, resulting in improved worker engagement and physical safety in the workplace.
Nevertheless, there are risks associated with using AI in the workplace, too. For example, instances exist where AI automates so many simple tasks that it intensifies the pace of work. Moreover, AI can change how work is monitored and managed, potentially enhancing perceived fairness but also posing risks to worker privacy and autonomy to execute tasks. The introduction of AI can also introduce or perpetuate biases and it is often difficult to determine who is accountable if something goes wrong. These risks necessitate careful consideration and mitigation.
What measures do you believe should be taken to bridge the AI research gap between developed and developing nations to ensure equitable technological progress?
Bridging the AI research gap between developed and developing nations first requires investments in critical digital infrastructure, including affordable high-speed broadband networks and services, computing power, data storage, and supporting data-generating technologies such as the Internet-of-Things. Additionally, governments should establish mechanisms for sharing AI knowledge (incl. data, code, algorithms, models, research, and know-how), while respecting privacy and intellectual property rights. Long-term investment in digital technologies and infrastructure and mechanisms for sharing AI knowledge are means to fostering a digital ecosystem. In particular, investment in open, accessible and representative datasets facilitates sharing of AI knowledge.
What advice would you give to aspiring AI researchers and enthusiasts who want to make a positive impact in the field?
My main advice would be to not focus solely on all the impressive things AI can do. While AI holds great promise for improving our lives, there are also significant risks. Making a positive impact requires approaching the field with a sense of responsibility and a commitment to positive societal impacts. So stay informed about AI’s benefits and risks, engage in research, advocate for responsible AI practices, and support initiatives that address the challenges posed by AI while harnessing its potential for the betterment of society.
If you could solve any global problem in the world with AI, what would it be and why?
Among the many pressing concerns, a global labour market challenge that I have worked on in the past few years is the pervasive shortage of healthcare workers experienced by most countries around the world. This issue has been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and may worsen with the ageing of populations. While the human touch in healthcare is indispensable, both in a literal and metaphorical sense, harnessing technologies such as AI can play an important role in addressing this challenge. AI has the potential to alleviate the administrative burdens on healthcare professionals, facilitate diagnostics, and optimise health workforce planning, for instance. In an ideal scenario, the integration of AI into healthcare systems could help to decrease the ongoing health workforce shortages while maintaining high-quality patient care.
What inspired you to participate in this AI summit as a speaker, and what message do you hope to convey to the audience?
I was inspired to participate in the World Summit AI as a speaker due to the international setting and the wide variety of participants. The impact of AI on the labour market is a matter of global significance, and the uncertainty surrounding its effects necessitates informed policy discussions. I hope to convey to the audience that while AI presents unique challenges, it also offers opportunities to enhance job quality and create new roles, particularly for those with AI-related skills.
However, it is crucial for policymakers to monitor the effects on different groups of workers to ensure that AI is trustworthy and beneficial for all. Policymaking, social dialogue, and training initiatives will be key in navigating the changing workplace brought about by AI adoption. At the heart of my message to the audience is the need for proactive and collective policy action.

Global AI events calendar

World Summit AI 
11-12 October 2023
Amsterdam, Netherlands
World AI Week 
9-13 October 2023
Amsterdam, Netherlands
World Summit AI Americas
24-25 April 2024
Montréal, Canada
Intelligent Health
11-12 September 2024
Basel, Switzerland
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