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It’s good to remember that exciting technologies never change the world as fast or as abruptly as their makers would have us believe, but after the inevitable small trough of disillusionment, they can transform our lives and works in very fundamental ways

In the beginning there was the data quartet – Data to Information to Knowledge to Wisdom. Then came the progress from descriptive analytics, emerging from better presentation of information to predictive and prescriptive analytics that could determine not just what happened but what could happen and what should happen, in an organisational or societal context. All this was being made possible by machine learning and artificial intelligence. To quote the Bible “And then there was light” in the form of Generative Artificial Intelligence and the inevitable questions have come up – will Gen AI kill jobs or enable new ones? Will it transform us from thinking social beings to some form of keyed up robots? Or will it truly create the new 350-billion-dollar global industry in which India and Indians could have a ten percent share?

I have been privileged in the last few weeks to participate in significant discussions on AI at the industry platform, the NASSCOM Technology Leadership Forum in Mumbai and also to lead the discussion on the impact of Generative AI on industry and society at the Asia Economic Dialogue, the landmark event of the Pune International Centre, in partnership with the Ministry of External Affairs. With engagement from every significant industry CXO and all major strategy and technology advisory firms, there is global recognition of the fact that Gen AI is one technology shift which cannot be ignored in the hope that like Metaverse in the recent past, it would just be a fad that would fade away. This one is for real and can be ignored only at one’s own peril.

In this context, it is interesting to note the predictions made in the MIT Technology Review for AI in 2024. In 2023 they had predicted that chatbots would come of age and become multimodal, start-ups would dominate the sound waves and Governments would jump to regulate— all coming true in one form or the other. Look at the capabilities of Open AI’s ChatGPT and Deep Mind’s Gemini, and the rapid moves of the US, UK and soon India to set up guardrails for superintelligence.

The new predictions are incisive too. Customised chatbots can serve as your private assistant, easily navigating text, numbers, data and videos to get you the decision support information you need in any form (Microsoft co-pilots are already in the market). However, the success will depend on reliability and reduced biases and hallucinations by the AI. Text to Video generative models have rapidly improved in quality and an early pioneer in this space, Runway, has set up an annual AI film festival that showcases experimental movies made with AI tools. A case in point is the 2023 experiment, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, that stars a de-aged deep fake Harrison Ford.

With 64 countries going to the polls in the next 12 months, AI-generated disinformation is a huge problem for the citizens to sift fakes from truth. From Argentina to Slovakia to Pakistan, we have seen AI-enabled videos play a role in the election process and their proliferation everywhere is inevitable. And, this can infiltrate all channels of public discourse in future years. Finally, automation and robotics will also have substantially wider and deeper impact. Imagine a single monolithic AI model that can do programming, write books and movie scripts, pass school and college exams. Now extend that to a single AI-enabled robot in your home that can open doors, drive your car, make your bed and roll your rotis without ever getting tired or demanding overtime.

If you are thinking by now that these innovations will not really affect your life, look at Fluid Analytics, a company in Mumbai started by Asim Bhalerao and Nidhi Jain, that trained their AI models with data from all developed cities and is helping utility companies in India, Singapore, Hong Kong, Chile, Spain, Canada and the US, to preserve clean water and sustainably combat sanitary water outflows. In Davos, the company was named the winner of the Zero Water Waste 2024 competition. Healthcare and education are key areas for aggressive deployment of Gen AI ideas. One of the products from the 5F World stable, Skills Alpha, uses AI to suggest content and pedagogies for learning, so that any learner can be set on a path which maximises their learning from a plethora of available sources. If space is any indicator, an entire hall at Mumbai’s Jio Centre was occupied by freshly minted AI start-ups, all with the mission and passion to change the world.

What is the outlook for you and me? It’s good to remember that exciting technologies never change the world as fast or as abruptly as their makers would have us believe, but after the inevitable small trough of disillusionment, they can transform our lives and works in very fundamental ways. We are at the beginning of a new wave and when the evolution starts looking like a revolution, as it could by the end of the year, it will be time to move beyond debates to action.