We need to avoid bigger inequalities as machine intelligence catches up with human intellect
When looking at technological innovation and economic growth over time, it’s quite interesting to see that we continue to move faster from one innovation wave to the next one. In particular, we need less time to transition to the fourth industrial revolution and move closer to what is called the Singularity.
Singularity is the point in time where the difference between human intellect and machine intelligence is eliminated. We don’t know precisely how this disruptive change will happen, but we are close to that point, and we understand the challenges that come with this digital transformation. We realise that we have to act fast and use technological innovation in a smart way to keep everybody on board and avoid bigger inequalities.
We cannot stop innovation, and we definitely cannot stop it at our borders. From a European perspective, we have to make sure that we cooperate with our neighbours to address the challenges ahead. If we want to remain globally competitive and respect the privacy and rights of our citizens at the same time, we will need to influence our neighbours in reciprocity.
Digital transformation could even destroy the link between employment and income
The financial crisis of 2007-2008 sparked a global recession that hit several EU countries, including Spain and Greece, very hard. It is important to realise however that the reaction to globalisation during this crisis led to more decentralised thinking of solutions, and to changes that nobody would expect to see so fast.
Blockchain, for example, is a philosophy around decentralising central systems such as central banks. Nobody would expect that governments could decentralise the issuing of money, but with blockchain technology, this could actually happen. With blockchain technology, we have the tools to see the results of such decentralisation.
Other changes that we’ve seen over the past decade include the coordination of the economy by machines, rather than humans. We’ve seen models appear that are powered by Artificial Intelligence and that predict how the economy will evolve. And we’ve seen online marketplaces becoming bigger and bigger.
These are just a few examples of the changes that are increasingly challenging the traditional systems. To make sure that these changes will not create further inequalities, we have to adapt our thinking fast. We cannot say that we will not be affected because there are simply no borders in this digital transformation. On the contrary, we have to look at what is happening with our neighbours, and we have to cooperate even more.
The disruptive nature of this digital transformation could even destroy the link between employment and income. People are already losing jobs today because of digitalisation. And if up to 70 to 80 per cent of the jobs in the next ten years are likely to require digital skills, even more people would find themselves out of a job if they cannot adapt. It is therefore essential to have a global understanding of how we can help this transition to happen while leaving no one behind and achieving the SDGs at the same time.
With the EU, we have to ensure digital innovation fosters inclusive growth
Achieving the SDGs is what the EU is trying to do more and more, and it is doing this by principle. We can only be successful in this if, at the same time, the EU remains competitive with the big world players. What the EU can do to create a unique competitive advantage is to ensure legal certainty and good quality of regulation. Of course, such regulation has to be innovation-friendly because we simply cannot stop innovation. But at the same time, it also needs to respect citizens’ social rights and individual rights.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an excellent example of a disruptive technological innovation that requires more politics. AI is typically used by industry to achieve and maximise profit. While that is good, we may need to enforce that maximising profits doesn’t happen at the expense of citizens’ rights. AI may provide insurance companies with data to identify people that are more at risk to develop a chronic disease, for example. If such data are used to exclude people from buying insurance, that makes insurance companies more profitable but discriminates citizens. What we therefore need to do is to make sure we protect citizens through inclusive policies regulating the use of AI technology.
It is crucial to discuss and get common standards to achieve that objective. The United Nations, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the European Union, can be the big platforms to achieve standardisation and certification for ethical and safe use of AI. Such standards can help us ensure technological innovations foster inclusive growth, which is a prerequisite for achieving the SDGs.
A 650 billion euro investment for achieving inclusive growth by supporting social entrepreneurship
With the EU, we also need to think about how we can support cross-border cooperation and how we can achieve a digital single market. We have to invest more in having marketable products and social infrastructure. As the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) aims to move 650 billion euro of investments in social infrastructure, this fund is becoming an essential instrument for achieving inclusive growth by supporting social entrepreneurship and other areas of the social economy.
When talking about investments, we should make sure to get more results out of them. One of the problems that we observed in the EU is that we lose a lot of valuable skills after having made significant initial investments in a large number of start-ups. To actually get more results out of these investments, we have to stop talking about start-ups while treating them as SMEs. If we want to cooperate properly with the start-up landscape and be successful in bringing more sustainable technologies to the market, we have to make the right definitions and act accordingly.
We also need to keep an open mind concerning investments abroad. In Africa, for example, we have seen an enormous boom of young people trying to be creative with smart ideas. But as they cannot get proper local funding to develop these ideas, they are simply leaving. If Europe invests in these ideas and opportunities, this will help avoid the brain drain that we used to have in Europe. Besides, such investments will allow more access to data and facilitate the scale-up of technological innovations. That is essential if we want to create growth and value in a world where inequalities are increasing.
If we manage to make digital transformation work for the benefit of all, we will achieve the SDGs.
Digital transformation is happening all around us at an exponential rate. G-STIC is essential to help us understand the opportunities and challenges for the amazing developments that are going on, and to make sure that the related transitions happen in ways that leave no one behind. If we manage to make these transitions work for the benefit of all citizens, we will achieve the SDGs.