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With the power and accessibility of AI growing rapidly, discerning between speculation and reality can be tricky. To narrow it down, here are five key areas of AI development to focus on.

The gap between AI hype and reality is narrowing, but there’s still a long way to go before it fully delivers the promised benefits to business and consumers. If you’re entering the field in 2024, you’re still early.

While we should see progress throughout 2024, AI training data remains formulaic and based on ‘outputs’, and in its current state generative AI (GenAI) falls short of initiating ideas that could allow us to solve more complex problems.

Advances in AI and robotics are enabling technology to perform more functions that were formerly considered exclusively ‘human’.

Nonetheless, AI is increasingly infiltrating our lives. The discourse continues over the role it should play in society, business and government. Advances in AI and robotics are enabling technology to perform more functions that were formerly considered exclusively ‘human’.

The question is whether we’re ready for adoption, and how we can ensure the right regulatory, technical and ethical frameworks are in place to ensure an optimal outcome.

These are five key areas of progress I believe we’ll see in AI over the coming year.

Dynamic Ethical Governance

Last year’s OpenAI saga highlighted in spectacular fashion that in an emergent domain as volatile and exponential as AI, ethics and governance models demand constant recalibration and much higher levels of engagement and intervention than what we’ve been used to.

The worlds of boards and governance, regulation and ethics are, by design, averse to decisive action and interventionism – unless in crisis mode. While this is not (yet) a crisis, approaching governance with a crisis-like level of dynamism will become the norm for leading organizations, including government. Balancing this level of innovation and safety at speed requires new models and new ideas.

One of the ideas we see is the rise of the chief ethics officer, who can galvanize activities within companies, taking accountability and bridging the gap between technology and ethics. Their role is to ensure that AI is harnessed in a way that upholds our shared values and mitigates potential harm.

Beyond this, while there has been a lot of experimentation with more self-regulating systems, decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs), blockchain experiments with currency and contracts – and, in OpenAI’s case, “capped profit’ entities run by charter – few have proved robust when the test came.

Accelerated Ecommerce Profitability

With the release of ChatGPT plugins (and AutoGPT implementations), GenAI-style interfaces have real-time access to the internet, enabling people to conveniently browse and buy without ever leaving their chat interface. For example, an AI agent can act on consumers’ behalf and conduct a weekly grocery shop in two minutes rather than 45 minutes.

AI agents will be another intermediator, slotting neatly between the customer and ecommerce as we know it today, perhaps even disintermediating the commerce platforms which themselves disrupted retailers. Retailers will need to adapt their customer experience strategies accordingly, as AI platforms take a bite from search and create new buyer behaviors.

On the other side of the ledger, GenAI tools have the ability to greatly decrease the cost of content and campaigning required to maintain high performing ecommerce. During the COVID-19 pandemic we saw many retailers grappling with ecommerce profitability as channel shift sky-rocketed ahead of readiness. GenAI will go a long way to fix this during 2024.

Wide Shallow Adoption

According to a Publicis Sapient survey of more than 10,000 consumers globally, GenAI use is rising and consumers will expect brands to incorporate the technology to improve customer experiences.

Over half (54%) of Gen Z and 43 percent of Millennials have used GenAI tools both personally and professionally. The vast majority (87%) of consumers who have used GenAI are excited about what it will bring to their shopping experience.

In 2024 we see both organizations and their customers adopting AI widely, but in shallow, exploratory ways as our clients seek to understand the value at stake in the myriad use cases to be explored. Their customers want to understand what really improves their experiences once the novelty factor wears off.

At a strategic level this means the C-suite integrating GenAI into business strategy on a more holistic level, moving on from the tentative experiments with short-run cost-cutting use cases seen in 2023. At a technical level this also reflects the emerging structure with many narrow use cases delivered by AI ‘on-device’ (mobile/PC) and more generalized orchestration and reasoning platforms in the cloud.

Countering Hyperreality

As the sophistication of GenAI and large language models (LLMs) grows, as well as the availability of large open-source datasets, the debate over what is real will continue and will reverberate across industries. This will raise key questions of creative ownership, IP, talent and journalistic veracity.

Publicly available AI language models such as ChatGPT are already capable of generating visual and written content that is largely indistinguishable from the work of a human creator. This is the realm of Jean Baudrillard’s concept of hyperreality, where what is ‘real’ and what is ‘artificial’ becomes indistinguishable.

What is ‘real’ and what is ‘artificial’ becomes indistinguishable.

While it is convenient for some to blur these two states and question the importance of the distinction, we can expect that approach to be challenged more in 2024 based on three drivers: the legal and financial assertion of original rights owners/creators over work on which GenAI outputs are modelled; key elections in the United States and United Kingdom; and the emergence of deep-fake content by bad-faith actors.

Big Productivity Kicker

It’s no secret that Australia, like many developed economies, has a productivity problem. In 2023 it hit a 60-year low in productivity growth, growing on average 1.2 percent in the last decade. The default responses to this of pushing for lower wages or lower corporate profits and looser regulation have proved stubbornly useless.

Recently Goldman Sachs predicted GenAI could drive a US$7 trillion increase in global GDP and lift annual productivity growth by 1.5 percent over a 10-year period. The US National Bureau of Economic Research found that access to GenAI can increase workers’ productivity by 14 percent on average.

Down under, even Reserve Bank of Australia Governor Michele Bullock said in November that AI has the potential to be “a very big impetus for productivity improvements”. Similarly, Productivity Commission Chair Danielle Wood stated that GenAI could be a “big productivity kicker”.

Overall, AI remains an emergent force in 2024, and like all emerging technologies remains an ‘everything’ problem, where technology, ethics, science, economics, society and government interact in new ways. Its impacts will be transformative and, if harnessed properly, it can improve the lives of billions.

Phil Phelan

Contributor Collective Member

Phil Phelan is Acting Managing Director and Chief Strategy & Innovation Officer at digital business transformation company Publicis Sapient. He has more than 25 years of experience in strategy and technology consulting and innovation. In the last decade Phil has helped many Australian clients grow through the journey of digital transformation working across government, financial services, retail, energy, CPG, transport and media. He also plays a pivotal role in the development of Publicis Sapient’s corporate strategy, identifying merger and acquisition opportunities and executing strategic investments and partnerships. For more information, go to https://www.publicissapient.com/

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