CES 2020: Global Economic Impact of AI to Go Mainstream

According to Ritika Gunnar, IBM vice president, data & AI expert labs & learning, AI is at an inflexion point. An IBM study on AI adoption among 4,500 top global organizations revealed that it has skyrocketed from 4 to 14 percent a few years ago to close to 40 percent today. “In next 18 to 24 months, that will change to 80 to 90 percent adoption across all industries,” she predicted, noting that AI will be used to provide expertise to the knowledge worker and process-intensive workloads.

“By 2030, AI will have an economic impact of $16 trillion,” stated Gunnar, noting that this will be “one of the biggest fundamental impacts we’ll ever see in our lifetime.” The three panelists of the CES session on AI’s Global Economic Impact, moderated by MarketWatch senior writer Jonathan Swartz, enthused over the inherent opportunities.

Huawei USA vice president of risk management Tim Danks reported that his company is focusing on customers and digital inclusion, especially for those who are geographically or economically disadvantaged. He gave the example of Rainforest Connection, which uses repurposed AI-powered cell phones mounted on trees in the rainforest to detect a chainsaw up to 3 km away.

World Bank Group senior adviser, disruptive technologies Edward Hsu noted that his organization focuses on developing nations, many of which are interested in harvesting the benefits of AI plans. “Developing countries have more to gain from AI than developed countries,” he said. “They can leapfrog legacy systems.”

He pointed to the impact of AI on finance as one important area in poorer nations. “The adoption of mobile phones has been one of the biggest changes we’ve seen in developing countries,” he said. “Banks can now access more data on behavior [in order to grant loans].”

Gunnar compared the adoption of AI to that of the Internet. “The Internet had slow adoption but at some point it took off,” she said. “That required a cultural change in the overall environment and the same is true for AI.” In addition to culture, developing the skills to understand how AI should be embedded in the organization is also important, and trust is a key factor.

Hsu noted that the World Bank Group has found that when people have more access to data, they are able to develop worthwhile content. “Data privacy issues aren’t well understood by policy makers or consumers,” he noted. “We are working with pros and cons of different regulatory frameworks, and we believe it will be different for each country.” He revealed that, for the time being, regulators in Cambodia are “more interested in economic growth than privacy.”

“Countries need to develop a national AI policy,” he said. “We see that as critical.”

Gunnar revealed that customer service is the first area that has already readily adopted AI. Hsu pointed out that AI will allow local entrepreneurs in developing nations to connect with domestic, regional and international markets. Everyone agreed that AI will impact every job. And, noted Gunnar, “the jobs of tomorrow haven’t even been invented yet.”