The race for AI generates a double reality

The race for AI generates a double reality

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Two seemingly contradictory stories are being told about the impact of artificial intelligence. The first is that the industry will be dominated by a handful of giant technology companies, which have the data, computing power and expertise to transform our lives. These are the ones that will bring in the most money.

The second is that AI is an extremely disruptive technology that will shake up the chessboard on which the current economy is played, allowing the most agile insurgents to invent new games. The reality is this: both stories can be simultaneously true.

This week’s release of the Artificial Intelligence Index Report, a 500-page examination of the global industry by Stanford University, provides evidence to support both arguments. But most striking is the current omnipresence of major US companies – including Google, Meta and Microsoft – in terms of research, investment and development of AI models.

Private sector companies have certainly captured many of the smartest AI researchers. In 2011, about 41% of new AI doctoral students in the United States and Canada remained in academia, with the same proportion entering industry. By 2022, only 20 percent remained in academia and around 70 percent joined industry.

These researchers have enabled the United States to build 61 of the most remarkable AI models over the past 20 years, compared to 25 in the EU and UK combined and 15 in China, according to the report.

But the cost of developing these models has skyrocketed. OpenAI spent $78 million on computing power to train its GPT-4 model, while Google spent $191 million on Gemini Ultra, the report estimates. Last year, private sector investment in AI in the United States totaled $67.2 billion, significantly more than in the next two largest countries: China ($7.8 billion) and the United Kingdom ($3.8 billion).

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Some argue that AI will be the new railway, or telecommunications network, of the 21st century economy, on which everything else will run. If so, U.S. tech giants could gradually usurp some of the traditional functions of governments, investment firms and lawmakers of building and managing infrastructure themselves while writing and enforcing the rules.

“The main takeaway is that industry dominates,” says Russell Wald, deputy director of the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence who produced the report. “We need to find a way so that the public sector still has a place at the table. »

But even if America’s tech giants produce the most powerful AI models, they can’t control all the ways they are applied. In this regard, there are vast opportunities for competition for other countries and small businesses. One of the most intriguing aspects of the Stanford report is how public perception surveys show that people in emerging economies seem more enthusiastic about the possibilities of AI than those in developed Western countries.

More than 70% of respondents in Indonesia, Thailand and Mexico believe AI would be more beneficial than harmful, according to an Ipsos survey last year. This compares to just 37 percent in the United States and France. A higher proportion of respondents reported being active daily ChatGPT users in Pakistan, Kenya, India and Brazil than in the United States or the United Kingdom, according to another survey from the Schwartz Reisman Institute.

China has rapidly applied AI to real-world uses, accounting for 61% of global AI patents, compared to 21% in the United States. It is also moving away from the pack when it comes to industrial robots, installing 21 percent of the global total.

Demographics play an important role in shaping attitudes. About 90 percent of the world’s youth live outside developed Western countries and want to engage in the digital economy, says Payal Arora, an Indian-born academic and author of a forthcoming book titled From pessimism to promise. For many of them, technology represents an opportunity.

“Pessimism is the privilege of those who can afford to live in despair,” Arora said this week at the Minderoo Center for Technology and Democracy conference in Cambridge, UK. “We need to break the bubble of pessimism.”

As others at the conference responded, the dominance of US AI companies risks creating new forms of techno-feudalism or data colonialism, as has happened with social media. Emerging economies will be those who make the rules, not those who establish them, in this new world order and increasingly dispossessed of their sovereignty. But some think this only reflects current reality. AI can give them a chance to rewrite the script.

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Video: AI: a blessing or a curse for humanity? | FT technology


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