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At the World Economic Forum's (WEF) annual meeting in Davos this week, a panel of industry and government leaders came together for a timely discussion on artificial intelligence as potentially the "steam engine" of the fourth industrial revolution.
The conversation centered around AI's transformative potential across every facet of society, business and government, while also highlighting the need for responsible regulation to manage risks.
Omar Sultan Al Olama, the UAE’s Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, Digital Economy and Remote Work Applications, said that countries must take a "responsible AI nation" approach with proactive policies and regulations.
While risks exist, the benefits are too great to simply reject the technology altogether, he argued. "We believe in the power of artificial intelligence as well as proactive regulation. So instead of rejecting it, how do you use it effectively?" he said. The UAE sees AI as critical for remaining competitive globally, especially for smaller countries, and has made major investments to become a leader in the field.
The Minister highlighted AI as an amalgamation of past revolutionary technologies. He stressed the urgency of embracing AI, warning of the consequences of delay. “If you do not and you're late, you will be finished," he remarked, underscoring the criticality of proactive adaptation.
According to Accenture CEO Julie Sweet, AI will make a material impact on every single industry in ways never seen before with prior technologies. Rather than pinpointing certain industries as AI leaders and laggards, Sweet argued there's no room for complacency. In every sector, some companies are moving aggressively to adopt AI while others risk falling behind.
"In the last 30 years, I can't remember a single technology where I could stand in front of a CEO, put up something that showed every part of the enterprise and a material impact with credibility, where someone would say, ‘You're crazy,’" she stated. But things changed once AI entered the room. “There's not an industry that's not going to be impacted,” she said, adding that now, “No one says we’re crazy.”
Senator Mike Rounds, a member of the Armed Services and Intelligence Committees, highlighted the potential applications of AI in war. "Artificial Intelligence will impact how we fight wars in all of those domains,” explaining that AI can be deployed on land, in the air, in space and for cybersecurity applications. "What used to take time and in the old days a couple of days to get ready, now we're talking milliseconds," Rounds said, stressing that the country that adopts AI for its military first will have a clear advantage over others.
The integration of AI in military applications has become increasingly prominent and profitable that even OpenAI, under the leadership of Sam Altman, has revised its core principles to permit the use of its technologies for warfare purposes—a use case that was explicitly banned before. This shift followed a restructuring of the company's board of directors, enhancing Altman's leadership and influence in the company’s strategic decision-making.
IBM CEO Arvind Krishna estimated that AI will generate “incredible economic competitiveness for companies and nations,” estimating that it will lead to $4 trillion worth of annual productivity gains before the end of the 2020s. Krishna argued that countries and companies who embrace AI early will gain an advantage over late adopters.
Cristiano Amon, CEO of Qualcomm, noted we're just at the beginning of mass AI adoption. "A year ago, we were kind of showing the art of possible,” he said, adding that now thousands of use cases are emerging. Amon emphasized AI's proliferation across every type of device and industry vertical, from phones to cars to smart buildings. The key to scaling AI is making this computational power pervasive, he said.
Amon also discussed the role of data and computing power in AI's expansion and its evolution from data centers to distributed applications. He gave practical examples of AI's applications in everyday life. “AI processing is going to be the next way of doing computing," he predicted.
The panelists agreed that AI has potential on par with historic innovations like the steam engine, electricity or the printing press. However, they said, governments and companies must pursue responsible regulation to manage risks while allowing room for innovation. The message was clear—adopt AI swiftly or risk irrelevance. "If you embrace artificial intelligence, you will be complete,” Minister Al Olama said. “If you do not and you're late, you will be finished. And if you reject it altogether, you will be completely finished."