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Is AI a force for good? Depends on who controls it, experts say

“AI ends up being a question of power,”  said Azeem Azhar, CEO of Exponential View.

“AI ends up being a question of power,” said Azeem Azhar, CEO of Exponential View. Image: World Economic Forum

Spencer Feingold
Digital Editor, World Economic Forum
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Davos Agenda

  • Leading experts garthered at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting of the Global Future Councils in Dubai.
  • Artificial intelligence was a major topic of conversation.
  • “The impact of AI is astronomical and we haven't even scratched the surface,” said Khalfan Belhoul, CEO of Dubai Future Foundation.

Artificial intelligence has advanced at whiplash speeds in recent years, prompting technology experts and the general public to ask a simple question: Is AI a force for good?

The question was a major topic of discussion at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting of the Global Future Councils in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The gathering, held from 16-18 October 2023, brought together a wide array of experts from business, academia, government, civil society and media. Participants discussed and debated a number of issue areas including the development of AI systems and technologies.

“No one would have realized that there would be a generative AI boom in 2023 had you asked the question in July 2022,” Azeem Azhar, the Chief Executive Officer of Exponential View, said during a public discussion on the issue.

‘A question of power’

During the session, Azhar and co-panelist Khalfan Belhoul, the Chief Executive Officer of Dubai Future Foundation, said unequivocally that AI is a force for good. They cautioned, however, that its impact on society and the economy largely depend on how AI systems are created and maintained.

“AI ends up being a question of power,” Azhar stated. “If control of infrastructure is power and control of the interface is power. Those who control AI will be powerful.”

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Azhar added that the distribution of power and control around AI needs to be structured in ways that serves the needs of the public. Fair competition in the market and responsible regulation across industries, Azhar stated, can help create an environment that ensures AI remains a force for good as it continues to advance.

“How do we think about our culture and values in a world where the speed with which these systems are going to change is going to increase, and continue to increase,” he said. “Things change, but not as fast as they are about it.”

Belhoul added during the public session that the impact of AI is “astronomical and we haven't even scratched the surface.”

Is AI a Force for Good?Plenary HallMina Al-Oraibi, Azeem Azharat the Annual Meeting of the Global Future Councils 2023 in Dubai, United Arab EmiratesTuesday, 17 October 2023Madinat Jumeirah Conference Centre©: World Economic Forum / Deepu Das
Image: World Economic Forum/Deepu Das

‘Collaboration and understanding’

The panellists also maintained that an open dialogue between private and public stakeholders can help ensure that AI remains a force for good. This includes fostering an environment where debating the big questions around the development and implementation of AI systems is welcomed.

“For AI to work,you need global collaboration and understanding,” Belhoul stated. “You need to make sure you create a safe environment, be more inclusive and have the right conversations.”

The Forum’s Annual Meeting of the Global Future Councils also features a public session on AI’s impact on industry and the economy.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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