Digital Economy Dispatch #118 -- Tempus Fugit, or What the Heck Just Happened?
Digital Economy Dispatch #118 — Tempus Fugit, or What the Heck Just Happened?
12th February 2023
I struggle with the idea of getting older. Not long ago, I attended meetings and felt like I was one of the young guns at the table. Now by entering a room I often detect that I am raising the average age by quite a margin. This realization has come to me only recently and is quite a shock.
Coping with the physical and emotional challenges of the aging process is difficult enough. However, it is accompanied with the equally worrying concern that my expertise and knowledge is also in danger of becoming out-of-date. Hours of study over the past 30 years do not necessarily provide the right foundation for understanding today’s digital trends. Hard won experiences from past battles may have little relevance to the topsy-turvy digital disruption shaping our future. These are concerns that keep me awake at night.
Faster and Faster
Alongside such sobering thoughts, we now see the latest acceleration in digital technology development. Although many years in the making, for those embroiled in digital transformation activities the start of 2023 has been like a starting gun for AI labs. It has ushered a wave of new experimental products into the market that have spurred widespread discussion amongst technologists about the right directions for the digital infrastructure that will power our future, inspired massive diversity in the potential applications of AI-fuelled digital transformation, and captured the public imagination about impact of digital disruption on our lives like never before.
The poster child for this radical rethinking of digital disruption is ChatGPT. Not a day goes by without another bunch of announcements of the form “You’ll never guess what I have just managed to get ChatGPT to do!”. With its simple interface and deep transformational AI capability, it has burst onto the scene with a sign up of over a million users in just a few days. People from every domain have been experimenting with it to find out what it can do.
However, much more than a toy for playing with AI, what ChatGPT has really done is to blow the lid off the Pandora’s box of digital technology capabilities that have been emerging over the past decade or more. The easy access and (at least initially) low cost to experiment with the technology has driven widescale use and forced us to confront the disruptive nature of the digital transformation it enables. Far from burrowing in to the technical details of this impressive digital technology, a majority of the discussion has focused on the issues and implications of its broad applicability, availability, and adoption.
The questions it raises for all of us are broad, deep, and troubling: What are the implications if this kind of AI-based system can readily, repeatedly, and without detection write an essay to complete your homework assignment, generate working software to build a new product feature, interpret complex legal procedures, invent unique art work, pass the bar exam, and much more? What areas of my business become redundant? Where can I differentiate my offerings and services? Does it make my job unnecessary?
What Matters Now?
I was recently asked my view on how to understand and interpret this latest acceleration in AI for the “Exeter Expertise” blog section at the Exeter Business School. To capture my thoughts, I recorded a podcast with Toby Roe and took the opportunity to provide a reflection on the current wave of digital technology advances:
In discussing the implications of AI technology such as ChatGP and present the key trends that are changing the way we live and work, I focused on 5 areas where the current wave of digital disruption is having most impact:
The rapid deployment of AI is raising many ethical questions that we are struggling to answer. We are only in the early stages of defining appropriate legal and morally-robust operating processes in this area, yet the technology is running wild and being promoted, utilized, and shared. The severe implications are obvious.
Digital Twins are becoming more widespread by creating sophisticated algorithms fed by large data sets to guide and advise in key areas such as construction, health, finance, and utility management. More frequently we will use digital models to understand and manage complex physical systems. This may prove to be one of the most important advances for AI over the coming months.
The last few weeks has proved that there is a big demand for massive experimentation with digital technologies if they can be made accessible, affordable, and easy to use. Expect to see many more high-profile digital technology platforms released with simple interfaces and wide applicability. We will learn a lot in the coming months about what we can do and shouldn’t do with AI.
A key to digital advances will be improvements in data management techniques. The very large models used to train AI systems will be highlighted as critical to producing more accurate results. A focus on quality will mean that the data models must be larger, more accurate and better managed. We will see many more tools and techniques aimed at better ways for creating, curating, and managing large data models.
The implications of massive AI adoption on jobs and skills will become even more of a lightning rod for discussion and debate. Much of the concern will be about which jobs are vulnerable to replacement by digital technologies. However, a lot of attention will also be turned to key gaps in organizations, and better ways of recruiting, training, and upgrading for the right digital skills.
Do Not Go Gently
The latest acceleration of digital technology releases based on generative AI reminds us that we are still in the early stages of understanding digital disruption and its implications. The latest wave of digital technology advances will create a great deal of opportunity for organizations. However, it will bring enormous challenge to individuals as they consider their role in the world, and place pressure on our key institutions such as governments, universities, and others. We’re all going to have to find ways to use our experience as a base to keep us grounded while clearly and keenly looking ahead!