Rising to meet the AI opportunity
It’s not every day that I get excited at the prospect of reading a 100-page research report.
However, on delving into the findings of the AI Forum NZ’s latest research project Artificial Intelligence: Shaping a Future New Zealand, I can honestly say – as one who has worked in the Kiwi tech arena for a few years now – I found myself brimming with new energy for realising the potential of this revolutionary technology in this innovative corner of the world we call home.
The AI Forum NZ report describes itself as ‘An Analysis of the Potential Impact and Opportunity of Artificial Intelligence on New Zealand’s Society and Economy’. The key word in there is opportunity.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is without doubt, the biggest evolution in computing since the microprocessor – and it already proving to be nothing short of revolutionary in the impact it is having on business, the economy and society in general.
Defined as ‘advanced digital technologies that enable machines to reproduce or surpass abilities that would require intelligence if humans were to perform them’, the promise of AI is its capability for transforming fundamental aspects of how we live and work.
From the virtual assistants we interact with on our smartphones, to robot-advisers who can help us make investment decisions, to the algorithms that analyse our daily web searches, AI is everywhere and permeating our lives a little more every day.
Forget the cliche of Terminator machines roaming a post-Apocalyptic landscape or X-Files scare-mongering about sentient computers hell-bent on destroying their human creators – the real AI opportunities are a lot more mundane, and encouragingly, more human-focused than you might expect.
It is this theme of the opportunity of AI that resonates throughout the AI Forum’s report and is seen most clearly in the real-life examples it provides for how AI-based solutions are already shaping the modern world.
Across the globe, governments are investing staggering amounts in AI research, and are already moving at pace to create networks of driverless cars, embed robotics in real life healthcare and medical scenarios, and even enhance the human body with AI. Not to mention AI-enabled financial systems, legal practices, city planning and management services, agriculture and the list goes on.
In the midst of it all is this word; opportunity. One estimate noted in the report prognosticates that by 2035, AI will add an additional US$15.7 trillion of value to the global economy.
So how is New Zealand figuring in this landscape? Are we taking hold of the financial opportunity of AI, as a nation that prides ourselves on our ingenuity? According to the research, no. But it’s a qualified no.
“New Zealand?s AI journey is approaching a crossroad”, says the report, “where we either choose to proactively help AI shape its impact on our economy and society, or we passively let it shape our future lives”.
“Historically, we have thrived in technology niches driven by our inventive entrepreneurs, and New Zealand AI firms will be able to successfully build upon foundational platform technologies developed overseas and export AI enabled intellectual property into niche markets”.
At Umbrellar, we have heard this call to action loud and clear. As a Microsoft Cloud Solutions Provider, we power our customers’ businesses on Microsoft’s global cloud platform, Azure, which offers AI as a core service. Naturally, our minds are increasingly wandering into considerations of how our customers can embed AI in their individual business context, and, even more broadly, how they can use it to contribute to humanity as a whole.
Ultimately, the report concludes by saying that New Zealand “needs to engage substantially with AI now to shape a prosperous, inclusive and thriving future for our nation”.
What’s blindingly obvious is that engaging with AI will be a major advantage to those businesses that embrace it, and a huge disruptor to those that don’t – and we firmly believe that this approach should be the ambition of the entire Kiwi tech industry, not just a few scattered innovators.
The AI Forum report notes that “AI technologies have clearly reached a tipping point of maturity, ready for widespread application across all domains of work and life”, and that “if organisations do not quickly understand AI and adapt, New Zealand risks falling behind globally”.
With this in mind, the report advocates strongly for New Zealand to “act now, in a substantial, coordinated way, to increase our ability to remain competitive and adapt to changes brought about by AI”.
Like the opportunity of AI itself, the challenges ahead for New Zealand are huge, but meet them we must. A great way to get started on doing this is to read the AI Forum report for yourself and asking the question of your own business; when it comes to artificial intelligence, will you shape, or be shaped.
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