In 2020, digital shifted from nice-to-have to must-have. In the wake of the profound disruption to our normal lives by COVID-19 pandemic, the future came into focus. Changes long in the making for some firms were implemented overnight. Rapidly, digital systems penetrated almost every sector of society, disrupting markets, labour force and institutions. The dynamics of these systems has an enormous impact on the social, political and economic life of people across the globe. As governments’ lockdown restrictions has become a common practice across different countries, these systems are providing alternative platforms for videoconferencing and digital collaboration, personalised music and movie recommendations, personalised advertisement of products and services, and many others.
The last six months alone have produced more digital transformation than the last decade, with every transformation effort already underway finding itself accelerated, and at scale. 2021 will mark a turning point. The business landscape has fundamentally shifted. Success will depend on firms’ ability and willingness to harness disruption to drive meaningful change. As we enter 2021, one digital technology that will expand at a rapid pace is AI.
In the Artificial Intelligence (AI) research community, AI refers to various methods for using a non-human system to learn from experience and imitate human intelligent behaviour (ICO, 2020). The reality is that AI is already here, not in the form of just a robot, but in intelligent software agents embedded in devices we use all the time. According to Aberdeen Research, 43 percent of businesses today are leveraging some form of AI. AI permeates our everyday lives, whether we’re aware of it or not. Every time we search for information on Google or get newsfeed on Facebook; whenever Netflix recommends a movie based on our viewing preferences, or our Yahoo Mail spam filter gains a little more insight into what types of emails we want to block; and every time we browse a website and accept cookies, we’re using AI.
With the advent of 5G network and the network going into the mainstream in 2021, AI systems will leverage on more reliable connectivity and bandwidth that 5G network provides. Our reliance on smartphones, tablets, and other devices – including an ever growing number of IoT sensors will increase. More and more businesses will rely on AI systems to collect, collate and analyse customers’ data and to provide personalised services.
However, as users’ understanding of the internal working of these systems is limited, new questions and concerns about their fairness, transparency and trustworthiness will arise. There will therefore be a need to find the trade-off between the distinct benefits that AI can bring and also the risks it can pose to the rights and freedoms of individuals.
Over the years, different countries have come up with guidelines to ensure AI systems process personal data fairly. An example of these guidelines is data protection laws and regulations in different countries of the world; which are legislation established to regulate those who have access to and control people’s data.
To address users’ questions and concerns about AI systems, the different stakeholders (such as government regulators, technology specialists, vendors and end users) in the design, development, deployment and regulation of AI systems will have to work together to provide more guidelines for AI ethics and data protection in order to ensure enhanced transparency, accountability, reliability, trustworthiness and security of the systems.
Gideon Ogunniye (PhD)