Artificial Intelligence (AI) surged in popularity last year, as both businesses and the public saw first-hand examples of its potential applications.
Companies like OpenAI released a wave of public demos, such as the advanced chatbot ChatGPT that has drawn the attention of Microsoft.
Text-to-image generators such as Dall-E 2, Midjourney and Stable Diffusion took the limelight, as millions of users began to create their own AI-generated art, to the anger of artists and companies such as Getty Images.
In its tech predictions for 2023, Dell Technologies Ireland said AI could become the “main engine of innovation” for the year, as more organisations adopt the technology to harness the full potential of data and support teams across a business.
The sector has shown no sign of slowing down so far this year, with OpenAI reportedly in talks to raise funds at a $29bn valuation, Apple rolling out an AI audio narration tool and Microsoft researching an AI model that can simulate anyone’s voice from only three seconds of audio.
Amid this rapid acceleration, experts have shared their top predictions for how the AI sector will evolve in 2023.
Watershed moment for natural language processing
In simple terms, natural language processing (NLP) involves teaching computers to understand language in text and speech. Various AI services that launched last year utilise NLP, such as ChatGPT and Meta’s controversial Galactica.
The market of NLP systems is estimated to be worth more than $341bn by 2030, thanks to its various applications in speech recognition software, chatbots and research-supporting AI systems.
A recent report from investment firm GP Bullhound predicts NLP will help companies improve their products, boost internal analysis such as document processing and help governments process large amounts of data.
“Recognising the scope and potential of NLP, tech giants are exploring further applications,” GP Bullhound said. “NLP is one of the few fields in AI which is not limited by data. Unlike training a self-driving car, NLP doesn’t require years of gathering data, like driving in different climates.
“With ongoing advancements in NLP, deep learning systems will continue to merge language, images, and real-life object detection to build models that replicate human intelligence.”
Cybersecurity: AI will boost attackers and defenders
As experts pointed out in recent cybersecurity predictions for 2023, AI has the potential to shake up this sector by improving defences and creating new possibilities for criminals.
Kelly Ahuja, CEO of Versa Networks, predicts that advances in AI and machine learning will let IT teams become more “agile” in reacting to threats, moving past previous approaches of fixing issues manually or with scripts.
“Leveraging the right platforms and solutions, enterprises will be able to stay abreast of the threat landscape and protect themselves from bad actors and build infrastructure that will adapt to the changing conditions,” Ahuja said.
At the same time, others such as Immanuel Chavoya, emerging threat expert at cybersecurity company SonicWall, believes new AI software will give threat actors the ability to quickly exploit vulnerabilities and reduce the technical expertise required “down to a 5-year-old level”.
There is also evidence that deepfakes – which use AI to create fake images and videos of real people – are being used to infiltrate organisations.
Autonomous vehicles have hurdles to climb
The autonomous vehicle sector took some leaps last year, with robotaxi services taking off in the US. Last August, Lyft and autonomous vehicle company Motional launched an all-electric robotaxi service in Las Vegas, with plans to have a fully driverless service in Las Vegas this year.
In June, self-driving car business Cruise became the first to secure approval to operate a commercial taxi service using driverless cars in California. However, a swarm of the company’s self-driving vehicles recently blocked several lanes of traffic at an intersection for hours, before Cruise employees arrived to fix the issue.
Market research company IDTechEx warned that the interest in these robotaxis seems to be on the decline, with the number of companies “actively working on roboshuttles appearing to have peaked”.
“Notable companies such as Local Motors have been forced to close their doors, while others like Continental and Bosch have shown concepts in the past but then gone quiet on the topic,” IDTechEx said.
There was evidence last year that various companies have been struggling in their autonomous vehicle ventures. Bloomberg reported last December that Apple’s self-driving car plans have hit a roadblock, with launch delays and a scale-back of its autonomous features.
A month prior, an activist hedge fund urged Google’s parent company Alphabet to cut back on its ‘Other Bets’ division, which includes autonomous vehicle company Waymo. TCI Fund Management said enthusiasm for self-driving cars “has collapsed” and noted that Ford and Volkswagen had pulled the plug on their self-driving car ventures.
Despite these issues, IDTechEx still believes autonomous vehicles have potential to grow significantly in the years ahead. The company said the conditions are right for autonomous trucks industry to “explode” in the coming years.
“There is a measurable and known driver shortage in the US, Europe, and China,” the company said. “A few factors drive this, key ones being an aging driver population without the necessary pipeline of replacements, the massive growth in e-commerce and the need for more freight on the road.”
Growth in AI-generated content
With the rise of AI-generated content last year, some groups raised concerns about the negative impact these systems can cause for original creators.
For example, an AI-generated artwork sparked debate last year after it won a prize in the Colorado State Fair’s fine art competition. The winning image was generated using the Midjourney text-to-image AI, and the creator was criticised by some for what they saw as a flagrant disregard for artistic practices.
Oliver Belitz, associate at the law firm Bird & Bird, said this technology could extend to other media types such as 3D models and videos, disrupting various industries.
“Instead of spending dozens or even hundreds of hours painstakingly creating a digital art image or modelling a 3D character for a video game, the future skill in demand will be feeding the AI with sophisticated prompts to achieve the desired results – in other words, the ability to guide and supervise the generative AI,” Belitz said.
Iván de Prado, AI head at visual asset provider Freepik, predicts this type of software will move into the mobile market, which will see more people creating and editing “fresh images for social media”.
“Mobile users will be able to explore AI-generated image galleries and integrate them into their projects,” de Prado said. “Handled wisely, the technology expresses human creativity, rather than replacing it.”
The mobile app Lensa AI surged in popularity toward the end of 2022 for its ‘‘magic avatar’ AI feature, which generates stylised portraits of users who submit images of themselves. Artists have raised complaints that this type of software impacts their work, while some claim their art has been stolen by these systems.
More AI risk assessments
The EU is continuing to move forward with its Artificial Intelligence Act (AIA), which is the first-ever legal framework on AI proposed by the European Commission.
First proposed in April 2021, the act aims to address the issues associated with specific uses of AI by categorising these systems into four different levels of risk: unacceptable risk, high risk, limited risk, and minimal risk.
The act is expected to move forward this year, with the potential to enter into force in a transitional period where standards are mandated and developed. The European Commission believes the regulation won’t be ready to enter full force until at least the second half of 2024.
Bird & Bird partner Tobias Bräutigam said it is important for organisations to adopt the assessment style and integrate these new requirements to their existing methodology. He said bigger corporations are already doing their own assessments for potential high-risk systems.
“Similarly, the AIA requires a “by design” approach, meaning that potential risks need to be identified and addressed before an AI product is placed on the market,” Bräutigam said. “This needs to be coordinated with privacy by design efforts.”
Some hype around AI in the past has led to fears that robots will end up taking over all our jobs. While AI does have the potential to take over some roles, experts such as Adonis Celestine argue that AI systems simply can’t function properly without “a human perspective”.
Celestine, the automation director of digital feedback provider Applause, said the concept of augmented intelligence is likely going to grow as AI becomes used in more industries.
This concept is defined by consulting company Gartner as a design pattern for a “human-centred partnership model of people and AI working together”.
“As we see more human intervention in AI, and use of larger data sets based on human experiences, we’ll see improved accuracy and personalisation of experiences,” Celestine said. “And where in some circumstances, this improved accuracy is nice to have from a user experience perspective, in others – such as healthcare – it is essential to get it right.”
Digital transformation through AI
Despite concerns about AI, it can’t be denied that this technology is able to accelerate the digital transformation of companies.
Last year, John Clancy from the Enterprise Digital Advisory Forum described AI as the “new fuel for the modern economy” and argued that companies need to open up to AI to be ready for the future.
As we move forward in 2023, experts believe Artificial Intelligence will continue to be a key part of digital transformation strategies in various sectors. Raza H. Qadri, the founder and CEO of integrated digital transformation solution provider Vibertron, believes AI will continue to influence corporate infrastructure decisions in almost all sectors.
“Bots specifically will become more sophisticated and could soon be the future of customer service,” Qadri said.
Celestine thinks the shortage of doctors in the UK and Europe will lead to AI playing a bigger role in frontline healthcare this year, while the travel sector will be boosted through AI assistants.
“These automated assistants will help to create a more consistent travel experience,” Celestine said. “They will manage the entire process from arriving at the airport to boarding a flight, to booking a taxi upon arrival at your destination and checking you into your hotel.”