In our conversation with one of the top artificial intelligence speakers in the world, Kay Firth-Butterfield, we learned the role that AI will play in our future. As the first Chief AI Ethics Officer and Head of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning for the World Economic Forum, Kay has dedicated her career to researching and understanding emerging technologies. Hear her insight first-hand in our recent interview.

What role does the Metaverse play in the future of business?

“It’s interesting because we’ve been through a bit of an exciting Metaverse concept where everybody was very excited and wanted to get on board, but now we’re a bit more in a Metaverse winter – or perhaps autumn – because it’s actually very hard to create content for the Metaverse.

“Where we’re seeing great applications for business are in industrial uses. However, where we’re struggling is actually achieving the vision of us all entering the Metaverse in a Ready Player One scenario, where we can shop, buy houses, inhabit the Metaverse, and have all that 3D contact. That’s really because it takes a lot of computer power and dedicated resources to create the full background needed to be truly immersive in the Metaverse.

“So, I think if you ask me what will happen in five years, I think we’ll see the Metaverse beginning to deliver the rewards we expect for business. Customers will have exceptional shopping experiences where instead of just going online, they can enter a virtual store, “feel” fabrics – although not actually – and make decisions in real time.

“We may also see remote working in the Metaverse so you’re actually with colleagues. A recent study found that remote work makes it hard for young people to get proper supervision, but you could imagine truly supervising younger staff in the Metaverse. Also, young people miss getting to know colleagues in remote work, so the Metaverse could help there. It frees us from physical limits and gives new virtual environments. But we need balance; many people likely don’t want to spend all their time in an immersive environment.”

How can businesses successfully use AI in their business?

“That’s a huge question because there are so many ways AI can be used in a business. But I’d say to use it successfully, you need to be very aware of the responsible or trustworthy aspects of artificial intelligence.

“You shouldn’t deploy AI, or if you’re creating it yourself, design and develop it, without keeping ethics in mind. We call it responsible or trustworthy AI now because those factors might affect successful deployment if you don’t get it right. 

“There’s the possibility of serious damage to a company, not just brand or customer loss, but financial loss too. More and more regulators are starting to sue those using AI irresponsibly or without trust built in. No one wants to be seen as untrustworthy with AI, it’s not a good look.

“Where to deploy AI? Some common uses are in human resources, to help with talent spotting. But there are big problems with using AI in HR because it can bring in human biases. We’re seeing some lawsuits in the US where companies unwisely bought AI for HR, and are being sued for using discriminatory tech. You have to be really careful; it’s a balance between AI’s benefits and thoroughly thinking through buying and deploying these systems.

“Other AI business uses? Manufacturing companies across factory floors; drug companies to help design pharmaceuticals. For example, DeepMind’s AlphaFold enabled big advances in using AI for biological work. There’s generative AI, which everyone’s talking about. You could use it in business, but be really aware that if you use models like ChatGPT, the data you feed it goes in and could come out anywhere. Don’t give it trade secrets – we saw a confidential Samsung memo get leaked globally when an employee had ChatGPT transcribe it.

“So, if you’re using generative AI in business, understand what AI is. It just predicts the next word, it’s not actually intelligent. So, let teams play with it after your legal department green lights it, and your C-suite understands AI and how you use it, with guidelines from your CTO or CIO.”

What are the global tech trends that we will see in the next 10 years?

“That’s a great question because it’s like getting out my crystal ball. But undoubtedly, generative AI is a huge change that we are seeing now. As it gets better and more refined, it will supply more AI applications just by us asking it questions.

“Natural language processing is an AI term for conversations, it’s the computer understanding the language you type. Soon, only elite coders will need to code. The rest of us can ask the computer questions by typing or speaking. It supplies answers and can even code something by just being asked. This future trend is very powerful, transformative tech.

“But it has downsides. First, it lies to us sometimes. Data will be dominated by the machine and with generative AI, every question creates data, 24/7. We’ll see less human data and more computer-generated data. We need to ensure it doesn’t relay lies it created in past responses.

“So, in 10 years, data creation and AI will change, which raises questions around human roles. If AI excels at many jobs without breaks, what is our place? There are cost savings but societal impacts of mass unemployment to consider.

“AI powers the Metaverse, so progress there depends on AI improvements. I think synthetic biology will surge too with AI advances. There may also be interplay between quantum computing and AI, bringing pros and cons. More Internet of Things devices, but challenges for security and data safety.

“Huge potential, but also big problems within the benefits. Some think that AI could become sentient, but I don’t see that as likely yet. It lacks causal reasoning, it’s still a predictive model. We’d need to add something more to achieve human-level intelligence but it’s an exciting time we’re entering.”

This interview with Kay Firth-Butterfield was conducted by Jack Hayes.