Artificial intelligence: strength in (European) union!

With more financial resources, better coordination of national policies, improved data sharing and a common framework of legal and ethical rules, Europe now wants to ensure it can make up for its slow progress on artificial intelligence.

On 10 April, 24 EU countries (excluding Cyprus, Romania, Croatia and Greece) and Norway agreed to adopt a "European approach" to artificial intelligence – a technology highly likely to revolutionise various facets of our societies. The objective is clear: to give Europe the tools it needs to rival the technological giants of Asia and America. And with good reason, because European investment in AI lags behind the US and also China, which has announced a new plan to invest EUR 18 billion of public money by the year 2020.

Massive investment

Aware that fighting alone would leave them at a disadvantage, the signatories have clearly understood that they must leave aside their disagreements, pool their financial resources, coordinate national policies and devise a common framework. Although no sum of money has yet been put forward, the European Commission has also said it will ask member states and the private sector to invest a total of EUR 20 billion in research by 2020, alongside up to EUR 1.5 billion it intends to contribute itself. For its part, France has already announced that it will inject EUR 1.5 billion of public money into research on AI during the next four years. In addition to amending national legislation and increasing the funding available for AI, EU ministers have also pledged to create a number of pan-European research centres.

The tremendous potential of AI

The concept of artificial intelligence originated in the 1950s, when the British mathematician Alan Turing wondered whether a machine was capable of "thinking". However, it was during the first decade of this century that the technology began to take off. AI entails implementing a certain number of techniques that aim to give machines the ability to imitate, and even surpass, a form of actual intelligence. Since the first supercomputers capable of beating humans at chess using deep learning algorithms, technology has continued to advance in ways that demonstrate that robots can overtake humans. And although the tidal wave predicted has perhaps not quite materialised yet, the potential of AI does seem extraordinary and likely to disrupt numerous sectors, from health and aviation to logistics, the armed forces and banks.

Ethical rules as a comparative advantage

Artificial intelligence is also the source of a wide range of fears. Top of the list is job losses on a vast scale. But at the same time, others are predicting the opposite. The McKinsey Global Institute, for example, contends that automation and AI will help create 200,000 jobs in Belgium by 2030. The other major concern is the risk of robots that are not only ultra-intelligent, but also possess cognitive abilities that enable them to evade the control of their creators. This dilemma, which touches on legal, philosophical and ethical questions, is also driving the EU to adopt a position. Its stated objective is to move towards a framework of legal and ethical rules that guarantees to keep humans at the heart of developments, deployments and decision-making in relation to AI, as well as prevent the creation and use of harmful AI applications. And such ethical standards will be viewed as a potential competitive advantage for European Union companies.



Why Brussels is investing in artificial intelligence

Brussels-Capital has freed up significant funds to support research and innovation in artificial intelligence. In addition to home automation, there are many opportunities for companies.

The study carried out by the company Accenture, ‘Why AI is the Future of Growth’, predicts that by 2035, we will no longer assess a country's economic growth in terms of capital, but rather by its degree of evolution in artificial intelligence (AI), a market that is still largely dominated by Silicon Valley and Asia.

An alliance announced at the end of September 2016 has been formed between a number of technology giants in the United States (Amazon, Microsoft, Google, IBM, Facebook). Apple has just joined this association which wants to define a shared framework and good practices for the "benefit of people and society", a sort of ethical group in the AI sector. France is also convinced of the potential of AI in industry. The investment fund ISAI is trying to pool energy through a platform for exchanges intended to accelerate the movement:

What interest does AI hold for companies?

Let us take the example of chatbots, which have become a more and more widely used customer engagement solution in the industry. First used in call centres, bots can now converse more and more naturally through messaging apps. With the ability to process requests (context, tone, priority and content), they are now evolving into a new form of intelligence. There are also reasoning bots that use cognitive technology. They have become self-teaching and more precise over time and after conversations.

Brussels at the forefront of AI

In Belgium, professor Tom Lenaerts of the ULB Machine Learning Group reminds us that academic research into intelligence "started in Brussels." He is participating in the Brussels-Capital region's new ambitions regarding AI. Innoviris has just unveiled an investment programme of EUR 4 million, with the code name Team UP, intended for companies and higher education. The objective is to support the development of solutions for image analysis, telemedicine and virtual reality, and also in robotics and financial analysis.

New local stakeholders are already profiting from the appetite for intelligence solutions in customer relations. The start-up ChatBot Plus, which was launched in Brussels by Joachim Gillet (aged 20) is already helping to improve customer service by using bots through Facebook:

"We are working with a group of beauty salons, for example. Their bot enables customers to make an appointment using Messenger without the need for any additional apps. The bot understands natural language and responds as if it were in a call centre, but in the modern world instead. If the conversation requires greater precision or particular attention, a human takes over."



Nouveau coach d'entreprise, l'IA se lance dans le management

Een artificiële-intelligentietoepassing die de werknemers van een callcenter coacht in real time. De anekdote suggereert dat AI in de toekomst de rol van bedrijfsmanager zou kunnen opnemen.

De vennootschap Cogito heeft een AI ontwikkeld die de werknemers van een callcenter coacht in real time. De anekdote suggereert dat AI in de toekomst de rol van bedrijfsmanager zou kunnen opnemen.

In Boston kregen de werknemers van een callcenter met een wel heel ongewoon management te maken: ze werden in real time gecoacht door een artificiële intelligentie. Die AI, ontwikkeld door Cogito, analyseert de conversatie tussen een werknemer en een klant en kan de aard van de interactie bepalen. De artificiële intelligentie spoort de opwinding en frustratie van de klant op aan de hand van de stem. Het gaat dus eigenlijk om emotionele intelligentie. Bij problemen grijpt ze in en geeft de werknemer waarschuwingen en tips. Het is niet de eerste keer dat Cogito gebruikt wordt in de bedrijfswereld. Bij het bedrijf Humana, dat de software getest heeft, nam de klanttevredenheid toe met 28%. Vreemd genoeg ervaarden de werknemers het experiment als positief en vonden ze opnieuw een zekere voldoening in hun werk.

Peter Robinson, professor aan de universiteit van Cambridge, meent dat AI wel waarde kan creëren, maar dat een overmatig gebruik ervan gevaarlijk kan zijn. Rosalind Picard, docente aan het MIT Media Lab, is het met hem eens. Volgens haar heeft iedereen een eigen gespreksstijl, die het resultaat is van sociaal-culturele factoren. Kijk maar naar New Yorkers, die hun gesprekspartners vaak onderbreken zonder dat dat als onbeleefd beschouwd wordt. Het is niet zeker dat AI dergelijke nuances kan onderscheiden.

Die opmerkingen terzijde gelaten, roept Cogito vragen op over het management van morgen. Kun je je laten managen door een softwareprogramma? Kan de wiskundige formule de gevoelige en menselijke luistereigenschap van een manager vervangen, in een maatschappij die meer dan ooit op prestaties gericht is? Ter herinnering, in 2015 evalueerde 72% van de loontrekkenden en 79% van de managers hun stress op 7 en meer op 10. In 2014 was dat respectievelijk 38% en 41%. Er komt ook nog een andere vraag naar boven: als je een AI laat denken en waarnemen in de plaats van het individu, is er dan geen risico op het minimaliseren  van de cognitieve en emotionele capaciteiten van het individu? Tot slot wordt de filosofische vraag gesteld of het gezegde 'Cogito ergo sum' of 'Ik denk dus ik ben' (wat slaat op dat niets zeker is, behalve dat alles te betwijfelen is: de leer van Descartes)nog altijd van toepassing is wanneer de manager een AI is?




Market abuse: what you need to know about the new regulations

In order to comply with the EU directive, Belgium is implementing new regulations on market abuse. The preliminary draft law establishes and refines investigatory powers. How can you navigate the law?

Since June 2016, a new legal framework has applied to market abuse that takes place within the European Union. The Market Abuse Regulation (MAR) (596/2014) ensures that Member States' own regulations adapt to financial developments in order to prevent abuse on the financial markets (including derivatives) and commodities markets.

Three types of abuse have been identified:

  •  Market manipulation;
  •  Insider dealing;
  •  Unlawful disclosure of restricted information.

The EU legislator believes that market abuse harms the integrity of financial markets and undermines public confidence in both securities and derivatives. It should be noted that the regulation's scope of application extends to traded financial instruments.

"Market integrity is essential for the financial markets to be integrated, effective and transparent." European Parliament, 16 April 2014

Belgium ensures compliance

On 31 March, the Belgian Council of Ministers approved a preliminary draft law (FR or NL)  which will apply the EU regulation on market abuse to Belgium. Although the regulations are directly applicable to Belgium, some of their provisions have required implementation in national law.

The preliminary draft law, once approved, will establish and improve investigatory powers. Which measures does it contain? As examples, we can cite disqualification from the profession, the request to hand over electronic communications data, police searches and confiscations, and new measures on market informers.

Sanctions are heavy. The EU now requires the imposition of fines totalling between 1 and 15 million euros, or 15% of the total annual turnover of the company in question.

A test for the repurchase of shares

The regulation transposed into law also affects trading to repurchase own shares. From now on, transactions to repurchase shares must comply with the provisions of the regulations in order to benefit from a presumption of legitimacy. And transactions must now be carried out on regulated markets or MTFs (multilateral trading facilities). The use of derivatives does not benefit from this presumption of legitimacy.



Can robots help restore our humanity?

A number of recent reports have warned that automation and robotisation pose a serious threat to employment. So what are the risks and how can we prepare for them? Two experts gave their views on this at the recent South by Southwest (SXSW) event.

Experts predict that within thirty years machines will take over from human beings in the world of work.”

It is hard to argue against strategy expert Melanie Cook, whose opinions reinforce the view set out in a number of reports that artificial intelligence, robotisation and task-automation are a threat to people’s jobs. But just how great is the risk? Who is at risk? And above all, what solutions do we need to implement in order to limit the damage and benefit to the maximum from the changes that are on the way? Melanie Cook, Head of Strategy & Content for the Asia region at consulting company SapientRazorfish, and John Hagel, Management Consultant and Co-Chairman of Deloitte’s ‘Centre for the Edge’ – which carries out original research into new corporate growth opportunities – provided answers to these questions during well-attended sessions at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive festival in Austin, Texas on 10-14 March.

There is a coming global trend towards using robots in the workforce. According to a study by UK thinktank Reform, 90% of government administrators in the UK, plus tens of thousands of employees in the health sector, could be replaced by chatbots by the year 2030. The conclusions drawn by the World Economic Forum (WEF) last year are still resonating. Its research shows that there will be a net loss of over 5 million jobs in 15 major developed and emerging economies by 2020. On 24 March in San Francisco the WEF officially opened a Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, set up to study the ethical, legal and social problems posed by modern technology. Other reports, including a study by the McKinsey Global Institute, entitled ‘Technology, Jobs, and the Future of Work’, portray a future where most jobs will be at least partially automated. The report states that automation could come to affect 50% of the world’s economy, i.e. some 1.2 billion employees.

The figures vary depending on the hypothesis and the timeframe, but one thing is sure, change is underway. And it will impact most jobs. John Hagel points out that

an increasing number of people believe that technology is going to steal their job. I think this fear is fully justified even though this will happen to varying degrees [...]. Some studies predict that 85% of jobs will be automated. I actually think that 100% of ‘jobs’ as they are thought of today will be affected, it’s just a question of time”.

Melanie Cook also believes that white collar and blue collar workers will all be faced with similar difficulties. She gave the SXSW audience the example of the Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance company in Japan, which is making 34 employees redundant and replacing them with IBM’s Watson Explorer. A robot has also been promoted to the post of artistic director in Japan.

So workers facing the effects of automation have two options. They can work alongside the machine in a spirit of intelligence augmentation, or seek to differentiate themselves and highlight their human qualities.

Human qualities the key differentiator?

The title of John Hagel’s session at SXSW was ‘Robots Can Restore Our Humanity’. He believes that their arrival on the work front could provide an opportunity to change our attitude to work. There are so many

specific tasks, activities that have to be defined and standardised in order to get them done in the most efficient way possible.” The Co-President of Deloitte’s Centre for the Edge pointed out that “today, adding value is all about cutting costs, becoming more efficient, doing things faster. Now that’s exactly what we expect algorithms to do”.

And this is precisely why human beings ought now to be moving away from these tasks.

Machines are more efficient at this type of work. People make errors, can be distracted, fall ill, and so on, not so machines,” he underlined. 

So people ought to be focusing on tasks that can create greater value by getting the best out of the human characteristics that robots do not possess: imagination, creativity and emotional intelligence.

Efficiency is for robots, not for us,

Hagel told the audience.

Interaction, friction, opposing points of view, which some people might see as leading to loss of efficiency, could well turn out to be a key source of creativity, he argued, suggesting: “Robots and technology could be the catalysts we need to put an end to the kind of work that makes us act like machines, and could help us create a world which allows us to be more human.”

"Efficiency is for robots not for us. Human's value is in imagination, creativity, emotional intelligence" says @jhagel #futureofwork #sxsw — Atelier BNP Paribas (@atelier_us) March 11, 2017

Hagel believes that the two objections most often raised to his proposals do not hold water. The first assertion is that not everyone can be creative and imaginative. Hagel thinks this is false, that these qualities are actually inherent in human beings. And the current education system, especially in the US, are to blame for making us even doubt this truth.

The state system in the United States was set up to teach children to follow rules, and it’s these institutions that have changed us. We need to get back to imagination, creation, emotional intelligence,

especially as there is a clear demand for such qualities, with the growing popularity of unique, tailored, perhaps ‘home-made’ products that meet very special needs and desires.

The second most often stated objection to John Hagel’s solution is the fact that there will not be sufficient demand for creative skills. This idea is closely bound up with the current work model, where most necessary tasks are routine tasks in a world motivated by efficiency and the imperative to reproduce a standard product. Hagel is therefore quite sceptical about the supposed need to concentrate on studying scientific subjects, maths or engineering.  However, SapientRazorfish strategist Melanie Cook did not share his view on this, arguing that it will be essential to be able to communicate with machines.

Intelligence Augmentation the key?

Melanie Cook’s solution seems a straightforward one and in a sense complementary to John Hagel’s approach. Man ought to collaborate with Machine in a spirit of ‘intelligence augmentation’,

which takes the best of human intuition and imagination and combines them with the capacity of artificial intelligence

– the idea being that human skills combined with robot skills will always be superior to the capabilities of a person acting alone or of a machine alone.

Cook explained her views with a rather chilling example:

Machines are becoming more intelligent than us and could go further faster, but with limits. Imagine that the goal is for instance to eradicate cancer. The fact is that the fastest way of doing that is to kill the cancer carrier, which means killing the person that we’re trying to protect. A human being knows that; a machine won’t necessarily know.

Intelligence Augmentation is now gaining ground in the business world. A Deloitte report published in February entitled ‘Rewriting the rules for the digital age’, cited by Melanie Cook during her SXSW session, states that some 75% of all companies have already integrated cognitive and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies or are currently testing out adoption with their employees. However, only 17% of the organisations polled said that they were ready, from a Human Resources point of view, to manage a workforce comprising people, robots and AI systems working together. So there is still a long way to go, but Melanie Cook believes that this approach is nevertheless taking shape.

Everybody knows this to be true, but hardly anyone is reacting. It’s a bit like receiving an email from an artificial intelligence system which says ‘In a few years I shall take your place at work’. And you reply ‘Well, we’ll see about that’. But that’s not the right answer!” Melanie Cook thinks people should ask themselves whether there’s a startup that poses a serious threat to their business. And “if you can’t really beat them, see if you can go and join them!

The other path of action is about legislation and laying down rights.

Prepare the legislators for what’s coming. Get them to think about the workforce and the future workspace,

she urged the audience.

So there appear to be many solutions. Melanie Cook’s final suggestion was about “employability loans” – something not too far away perhaps from the idea of a universal monthly payment, which is currently being much talked about in the media.

People need to be able to borrow money to build up their skillsets and retrain and then pay off their debt as soon as they find work. These loans could even sometimes be granted by an employer rather than the bank to a future employee, who would then reimburse the loan at a low rate of interest.”

This might be a useful option for countries with a low level of social protection, such as the United States. At any rate, it is high time governments and companies began to think about undertaking the appropriate initiatives.

(Source :

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