Economy & Business

Artificial Intelligence – the good, the bad, the unlikely

13 March, 2024

AI promises to revolutionize almost virtually every aspect of human life and can already automate tasks that were previously considered impossible for machines to perform. However, there are questions about how much of the hype will translate into reality as well as concerns about the ethical and legal risks.


By Paul Shelton


AI, or artificial intelligence simply refers to the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines, especially computer systems. Whilst it may seem that AI has sprung from nowhere, it has actually been the result of a long path of scientific development over many decades. But it is certainly capturing the imagination, interest and, in some cases, the alarm of many people.


The Economist, in a recent article, noted that it has really only been nearly a year since OpenAI released GPT-4, its most “sophisticated artificial-intelligence model and brain-of-sorts” behind ChatGPT. In that short period of time, as the Economist reports, the market capitalisation of America’s technology industry has risen by half, creating some US$6 trillion in shareholder value.


On 21 February, Nvidia, an American semiconductor company, which designs high-end chips used to train and run models like GPT-AI, reported bumper fourth-quarter results, sending its market value towards US$2 trillion. Nvidia may be an American company but the name resonates within Taiwan, especially due to the high local recognition given to its Taiwan-born co-founder and president Jen-Hsun "Jensen" Huang. AI mania has also lifted the share prices of other tech giants, including Alphabet (Google’s corporate parent), Amazon and Microsoft, which are spending big on developing the technology, and Taiwan’s TSMC, which manufactures Nvidia’s most advanced chips.


But what is AI really? AI encompasses long established fields such as machine learning, which through the use of increasingly sophisticated algorithms, allow computers to learn from and make predictions or decisions based on data. AI also supports natural language processing, allowing computers to understand and generate human language. Machine learning or AI generates computer vision, which enables computers to interpret and understand visual information from the real world. AI is also synonymous with robotics and a visit to a local Taiwanese restaurant will now see robots performing often simple tasks, such as moving food and/or crockery, autonomously or with minimal human intervention.


But AI technology does not and will not stop there. AI is increasingly being integrated into various aspects of daily life, including areas such as healthcare, finance, transportation, customer service, and entertainment. Perhaps the days of the dot matrix printer in Taiwanese ATM vestibules are numbered!


There is definitely positive and negative hype surrounding AI. Some see AI as having the potential for AI to revolutionize almost virtually every aspect of human life. Some of that hype surrounds AI’s ability to automate tasks that were previously considered impossible for machines to perform, leading to increased efficiency and productivity across various industries.

AI algorithms can analyze vast amounts of data to identify patterns, trends and insights that humans might overlook. Big data is now a vast field of its own. AI’s ability to analyze such vast amounts of data is said to lead to better decision-making and forecasting.


In healthcare, AI holds the promise of enhancing medical diagnosis, treatment planning, and drug discovery. This should lead to better health outcomes and more efficient healthcare delivery.


AI has already played a crucial role in the development of self-driving cars and other autonomous vehicles. However the jury is still out on whether autonomous vehicles will actually make transportation safer, more efficient and accessible.


Those with an interest or investment in AI see real competitive advantages. These investors believe that the embrace of AI creates a competitive edge by leveraging its capabilities to optimise processes, develop innovative products and services, and stay ahead of market trends.


However, it must also be recognized that these alleged competitive advantages can lead to challenging ethical considerations and concerns about individual data privacy. Algorithms can also contain or develop biases and if not regularly checked by human developers the results can be skewed in ways unintended by the developers.


Other than the rather simplistic example of robots in Taiwanese restaurants, how is Taiwan leveraging AI and what are the real benefits and/or concerns? Taiwan is known globally for its robust technology industry. Taiwan is actively developing AI-powered products and services in areas such as semiconductors, electronics manufacturing, and biotechnology. This development contributes directly to Taiwan's economic growth and global competitiveness.


Taiwan's healthcare sector has benefited, particularly in areas such as medical imaging for early detection of diseases like cancer, enabling timely interventions and better prognosis. Taiwan’s aim of net zero carbon emissions by 2050 has created a desire for smart cities. AI technologies are allowing Taiwan’s cities to improve urban planning, transportation, energy management, and public services all aimed at enhanced overall livability and, in particular, sustainability.


Taiwan's universities and research institutions are actively engaged in AI research and talent development. There are active initiatives to promote AI education and training. These same university and research institutions are then collaborating with industry partners to further create a skilled workforce and fostering innovation in AI-related fields.


The vibrant startup ecosystem in Taiwan is seeing a surge in AI-driven innovation. The government is providing support programmes, investment incentives, and incubation centers. All of these initiatives and programmes are driving entrepreneurship and technological advancement.


Taiwan recognizes AI’s transformative potential and is actively embracing it to drive economic prosperity alongside societal well-being and maintaining its position as a global technology leader.


One concern expressed in relation to the adoption of AI is the potential to negatively impact various job roles across different industries. That is a real concern but are we at the point of giving up to AI and finding ourselves unemployed and redundant as workers? AI can lead to the redundancy of certain tasks or even entire job roles but many of these jobs involve performing repetitive and predictable tasks are susceptible to automation by even simple systems. AI-driven chatbots and virtual assistants are increasingly capable of handling customer inquiries, troubleshooting, and providing support, potentially reducing the need for human customer service representatives in certain industries. However, whilst these virtual assistants can be useful, the public are still demanding a level of personal user experience that cannot be replicated, as yet, by full reliance on AI.


AI technologies have already had an impact on retail businesses. Many savvy retail businesses, particuarly the sheer plethora of convenience stores, have simply remodeled their systems to enable automated inventory management, and cashierless checkout systems. To balance this, some retailers are continuing with the “store front” approach because there will always be a percentage of customers that need or simply desire that full level of service and support.


Automated technologies powered by AI, such as robotic arms and automated assembly lines, can streamline manufacturing processes and reduce the need for manual labour in tasks like assembly and quality control. But really, whilst we credit AI for this streamlining, some form of automation dates as far back, if not further, as Henry Ford introducing the Model-T assembly line all those years ago.


Certainly the financial services industry is increasingly using AI algorithms for tasks such as algorithmic trading, risk assessment, and fraud detection. However, globally, levels of financial crime are actually increasing and evidence suggests that the financial services industry is in fact employing more real employees who are tasked with the interpretation and implementation of the results created by AI to combat the crimes that all too often impact those least able to sustain financial losses.

AI often actually leads to the transformation of work rather than outright job loss. New opportunities emerge as workers adapt to working alongside AI systems. The deployment of AI actually creates demand for roles related to AI development, maintenance, oversight, and ethical governance. As is so often the case, disruption also presents opportunities.


A genuine area of concern in relation to AI is in the field of education. As noted earlier, AI is creating educational advances and benefits but there are examples of a rise in plagarism and educational laziness. Undoubtedly AI will then be used to check for such instances and the circle becomes neverending.


People talk big about AI but real-world adoption of AI has been more of a story of treading gingerly rather than large scale adoption, according to the Economist.


The world has already seen and endured previous technological breakthroughs that have revolutionised what people do. The humble typewriter was seen as a major technological breakthrough when it was first introduced. This article itself was written on a laptop and not penned by hand before being typed out.


As a writer I do use AI in limited ways. All writers experience writer’s block and in my own personal experience, asking AI a very specific question can be the answer to removing that block. But I take great care to ensure the information obtained from AI is actually correct. We should make AI work for us in positive or even enjoyable ways. Whilst I do write, I have never conquered the ability to write Japanese “haiku”, an ancient form Japanese poetry consisting of three lines. So I asked my preferred writing form of AI to write a haiku for this article with the following result:  


Artificial minds,

Endless possibilities,

Innovation thrives.


Not bad for a machine, albeit seemingly a little egotistical and self-serving. But this is probably one of the better results. Ask AI to write jokes about any particular subject and the results are most often banal and barely funny. For now at least, AI is not able to replace the most imaginative writers.


Paul Shelton is a consultant with 30 years of experience in the international financial services and related industries with skills in all aspects of legal and financial crime compliance and regulatory relationship advisory and management.

Go Top