Gerard de Graaf is the Senior Envoy for Digital to the US and head of the EU office in San Francisco, which is focused on digital technologies and innovation. Here is what he says we can expect from artificial intelligence (AI).
Over the past year, the hype around AI has been stratospheric, with generative AI platform ChatGPT reaching 100 million users in just two months, the fastest platform to reach that milestone before Meta’s Threads took the crown.
Much of the chitter chatter about AI is about the now: how can businesses implement AI now? What is the power of AI now? But what does AI look like in the future?
De Graaf has been in Silicon Valley – for a year now and has seen first-hand how these global tech companies are expecting to use AI in the long-term.
Big names such as Google, Meta and Microsoft are interacting and developing AI technology, but due to the speed of development nobody knows where it is heading.
“This is a transformational technology that will impact significantly on our individual lives, on society, on the economy,” he says.
“If you look at the speed at which things are developing, I have never seen a technology that moves and is used and embraced so quickly.”
Already, AI is impacting sectors like Hollywood, with writers and actors going on strike as studios start introducing technology to the mix.
The technology is also being rolled out to support consumers in sectors such as real estate, insurance and healthcare.
There is still a human in the loop, but what de Graaf says is that AI can be expected to improve life, remove the tedious routine and support our work for the better.
“It will become increasingly a support mechanism. It may take some of the work away,” he says.
“People are an important factor here. The skills of people you see are not going to be overtaken [by] the idea that AI will come and steal billions of jobs away.”
Knowing humans, they won’t let AI machines take over and it won’t be a “bulldozer effect” where they come crashing through, he adds.
AI’s advance may also be slowed by the global digital divide; six percent of New Zealanders do not have access to the internet according to Statista, while de Graaf says that four out of 10 Europeans in the European Union lack basic digital skills.
Over the next few years, de Graaf predicts that AI will be streamlined in the workplace to make it more convenient and efficient and drive production.
He looks at one example where a big insurance company in Brussels originally had 80,000 people working on tasks such as policy underwriting, claims management and more until the introduction of AI where now they need only a “few hundred people”.
Already, the likes of Google and Microsoft are using the technology as a “personal assistant” with AI being used to write emails.
“It will make our lives a lot easier. Yes, it will take away some activities that are now part of jobs of people, and again, this is where we have to see how technology is going to impact the labour market,” he says.
“It will also give us more opportunity to do maybe more qualitative work.”
Other changes could include shortening the work week to four or three days. Education will be as vital as ever, especially for larger companies who have the responsibility to develop skills.
“One thing is certain, as I said, nobody knows, but one thing I think we all know, it’s happening and it’s going to be very impactful,” de Graaf says.
“There are upsides and there’s downsides. And [for] society, I think we need to make the most of the technology.”