Artificial Intelligence (AI) has become a driving force in various industries, revolutionizing processes and transforming the way we work. Through interviews with industry professionals who are witnessing this digital revolution firsthand, we gained insights into the trends, applications, benefits, and concerns surrounding the widespread use of AI.

“You’re now irrelevant.”

I woke up to this text from a former boss on the day ChatGPT was made accessible to the public.

I’d heard rumors, of course, dark whispers that portended the end of content production as we knew it. Yet, most writers and editors didn’t take it seriously. AI couldn’t take over a role that had existed since humans started scratching stories on cave walls, could it? Apparently, according to many, it could.

Suddenly, fears about AI seemed to be everywhere. Yet, in reality, artificial intelligence is nothing new. The first successful AI program was created by British programmer Christopher Strachey in 1951 and the concept of robotic intelligence dates back to the dystopian imagination of Czech writer Karel Čapek, who transformed the Czech word “robota,” meaning forced labor, into robot in his 1920 sci-fi play R.U.R. For more than a century, humans have been exploring what it would look like if we created an intelligence so advanced that it could supersede our own. However, it’s only now, as we teeter on the precipice of the intelligence tech race, that we’re realizing what programmers have known all along – there’s no stopping the revolution, any more than we could have stopped the internet. Instead, the question isn’t whether AI should become an integral part of our lives— it already is in ways most of us only have a minimal understanding of—but how it should be ethically created and managed.

I sat down with five professionals working in various business sectors in Asia to discuss how AI is already being integrated into their industries and what the future holds in terms of trends, business models, and ethical responsibility.

“Any organization that is not considering how AI will impact their industry will be overtaken by competitors who are,” says Barbara Ximenez, CEO of Shutta, an HCMC-based start-up specializing in digital transformation. Ximenez has been using AI for decades in her work in business tech and has seen an upward focus on its use in revenue attribution modeling, social listening, bid automation, personalized e-commerce, and more. Yet, despite her extensive use of AI, she isn’t personally convinced that it will serve us well.

“Most AI-generated content is not yet of a sufficient quality to be indistinguishable from human-generated content, whether text-based or visual,” she says. “In my perspective, this makes AI a useful assistant – a co-pilot – to content creators, but without a skillful AI operator, the technology falls flat very quickly.”

This statement echoes what most professionals already know. Humans are still the life behind the coding. Like children, the tools need clear parenting to learn from their mistakes.

Image imagined by Matt Millard and created by AI tool – Midjourney

Matt Millard, Founder of the branding and creative consultancy agency Purple Asia, uses AI in workshop situations to create customer personas, mood boards, and brand touchpoint descriptions, among other things. He believes with proper guidance, the imaginative and skillful use of AI tools will become the cornerstone of the creative industries. He brings up a practical example:

“In a recent meeting with a client, I was trying to get across an idea about a swimming pool lit from below to simulate the emerald waters of Halong Bay reflecting the stars at night. In the past, I would have had to trawl the internet or ask one of my design team to divert their attention from other work to create a maquette for me. This time I simply typed a prompt into Midjourney during my meeting, and it gave a decent enough rendition of what was in my brain to get the idea across to my client.”

Andrew Currie, award-winning architect and Founder of the Out-2-Design group, has also been looking into the best ways to use generative AI for design. “A good example is planning a car park,” he says. “For an architect, this isn’t something very creative, but it’s actually highly skill-based. Normally, the [ability] to do it comes from years of experience. Eventually, we’ll be able to put in the parameters and let AI figure out how many spaces can fit into a certain space. This type of project is about the mathematics of squeezing densities, not creativity, but there’s a significant cost benefit in getting it right.”

Rick Yvanovich, author of “Business as Unusual – How to Thrive in the New Renaissance,” also predicts increased use of AI to accelerate research and augment profits due to expediency. Certain industries such as customer support are already using it to “anticipate what [a customer] requires and to serve it up faster.” In addition, he feels that as automated machine learning advances, “AI can take over even more, freeing time to go higher up the value curve.”

However, speed and quality don’t always advance in unison.

Millard fears that we’ll “be served mountains of generic, AI-generated, lowest common denominator marketing.”

Ximinez agrees, “My main fear is that, similarly to what has happened with search algorithms and social media platforms, the technology will be used by billions of people while the inner workings of it will only be understood by a few. This opens us up to an explosion of what we can already see happening on the internet: increased polarization, increased confirmation bias bubbles, and other general biases creeping in unchallenged.”

Another common worry is that massive layoffs are on the horizon. However, according to the World Economic Forum, while AI will replace approximately 85 million jobs worldwide, it will likely create as many as 97 million new jobs by 2025. Whether workers have the skills they need to train and manage their AI is another story. Upskilling essential staff will become the main goal for forward-thinking companies over the next few years as AI takes over repetitive, task-driven work. Yet, this hierarchy does beget another problem. In the past, junior employees built their knowledge base through work on projects that required less skill, so what happens when those types of experiences never happen? Will AI diminish younger workers’ ability to think independently and critically analyze information?

Andrew Currie worries that the answer is yes. “Architecture and creative industries are based on having broad knowledge in order to develop a gut feeling about proportions, about the size of beams, about all sorts of things,” he says. “Your gut feeling allows you to be a good designer. So if you don’t ever develop it, how can one think creatively without being reliant on AI?”

While AI undoubtedly offers numerous benefits, concerns about issues such as data privacy, algorithmic bias, job displacement, and the impact on social structures persist. Without appropriate oversight, there’s a risk of unintended consequences and negative impacts.

The ethical implications of rapidly advancing AI technology are part of what drove Canadian entrepreneur, investor, and technologist, Jesse Arlen Smith, to start his not-for-profit Aiforgood Asia five years ago. Over the 19 years he’s worked in consulting and technology, he’s seen corporate AI use evolve from rudimentary data analytics and reporting to fully automated decision support systems.

“During that process, I was aware of the incredible power of these tools,” he says. “However, I was also concerned about how they would be deployed. They were almost entirely being designed—with a few exceptions, such as in the medical field—with the goal of maximizing wealth for shareholder value. As a goal in itself, that does create drive and bring out innovation, but what I saw was a real lack of what I would call ‘AI ethics.’

As a passionate advocate for responsible AI, Smith has been actively involved in shaping the AI ethics ecosystem. He’s collaborated with organizations like Crayon, an ethically-minded digital transformation company based in Norway, and served as the managing director of the “Robot of the Year” Impact Fund and Conference, which funded ethical robotics and AI innovations worldwide.

Aiforgood Asia also undertakes impactful projects that leverage AI for environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG). A recent collaboration with Crayon and Fauna & Flora International involved using satellite imagery and machine learning to assess forest degradation in Vietnam due to the planting of cardamom in protected forests. Through this collaborative effort, they successfully developed a working model that can now be deployed at scale, helping to aid conservation efforts and monitor human activity to protect some of the most endangered species on the planet.

“AI ethics must be woven into the very fabric of technological advancements,” Smith says. He believes that the transformative potential of AI can only be harnessed responsibly when it aligns with the values and goals of society as a whole. By integrating ethics into the design, development, and deployment processes, we can cultivate an AI-driven future that benefits humanity at large.

The first step is coming to a unified understanding of what AI ethics are and why they are good for business. Smith explains that from a practical standpoint, ethics can be thought of as values that are implementable. He breaks this down further into eight universal principles: justice, accountability, fairness, human dignity, agency, privacy, solidarity, and trust. Part of his consultancy work with companies is explaining why implementing those values in their AI systems is essential from an operational and financial point of view.

Every major development has good or bad applications. “Go all the way back to fire, for example,” Smith says. “It can be used to cook meat or to burn down a village. Nuclear power can be used for energy or as a bomb.

AI technology can assist with the protection of endangered species and ecosystems.
Photo courtesy of Oliver Wearn; Fauna & Flora International

“What we should be focusing on instead is the fact that the fruits of these technologies are not shared equally,” Smith continues, “which will create a pyramid with the people and countries who have ownership of and access to the technology at the top.” Countries will need massive cloud computing processing power to develop and deploy AI models, he explains. If a country doesn’t have this ability, their data may go to a data warehouse somewhere else and the profits from that computational expense will simultaneously leave the country. This will drain the technological sovereignty of any country that’s not investing in the resources needed to develop and sustain a local AI ecosystem.

Rather than fearmongering scenarios such as AI taking over nuclear codes or widespread unemployment, Smith believes it’s important to focus on figuring out ways to make sure that basic human values are operationalized into the design of AI systems from the start in a way that benefits all humankind, not just major shareholders.

As AI continues to reshape industries, finding the right balance between leveraging its power and preserving human expertise becomes paramount. Whether we use it to speed write social media posts, automate defense systems, handle difficult customers, or create a more environmentally sound future, none of us is irrelevant. We are all training future AI systems to act on our collective behalf. Will we teach them to act responsibly and thoughtfully? Or will we just assume that deus ex machina (god is in the machine) and allow AI to compute a response to this question itself?

One thing is certain, AI is here to stay. By acknowledging the ethical dimensions and taking proactive steps to address them, businesses can use AI power responsibly and pave the way for a future where human intelligence and artificial intelligence coexist harmoniously, driving innovation and progress.

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Tim Burrill
Membership Manager & Executive Assistant
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