France Jamat looks to key technologies of the future — By Rehana Ladak

Two emerging technologies we often hear about include Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Blockchain, which have the potential to revolutionise everyday life. Recently, the Aga Khan Education Board, Economic Planning Board, and Youth & Sports Committee of the Ismaili Council for France, invited members of the Jamat to learn about these key technologies from experts in the field.

A keen audience intently listens to Ismaili technology experts at the Principal Jamatkhana in Paris.PHOTO: THE.ISMAILI

Digital Innovation expert Aiaze Mitha explains Blockchain technology to the Jamat in Paris.PHOTO: THE.ISMAILI

Our daily lives are surrounded by intelligent systems based on new technology, and are becoming even more so, while many economic and social fields are undergoing a transformative process, due to the widespread adoption of these technologies. As such, it is thought that many jobs could be impacted, and some may even disappear.

During an afternoon at the Principal Jamatkhana in Paris, a keen audience intently listened  to Ismaili technology experts, Aiaze Mitha and Hamza Didaraly, explaining how new technologies such as AI and the Blockchain work. They spoke about the potential opportunities and risks of the innovations, which are already in use in many countries around the world.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly developing technology, and has become embedded in smartphones and smart-speakers with various applications for users to look up information, purchase items, or book services through virtual assistants (Siri, Alexa, and Google). An increasing number of industries also use AI, including the healthcare sector for analysing X-rays, or the transport sector with intelligent navigation systems and autonomous cars. Buses and metros are also slowly moving towards intelligent systems.

Through data analysis, AI may provide the ability to detect potential epidemics, could help farmers to increase yields, and help with the restoration of damaged monuments or even entire cities. However, there are also risks attached to the unregulated growth of AI. While it promises to offer consumers more personalised services, this could come at the cost of a loss of privacy, as we have seen with social networks that use AI to better target individual profiles and influence behaviour.

Blockchain is a technology for storing and exchanging information in a secure, reliable and non-modifiable manner, without the need for a central authority. Today, it is mainly used in the financial sector to simplify back-end operations such as reconciliations and settlements and as such, removes the need to pay commissions to intermediaries. Although Blockchain has been largely popularised by crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin, its applications go well beyond the crypto world. Traditional industries including the food business increasingly use Blockchain. For example, supermarkets use it in QR codes for packaging, to secure all the information related to the production and supply chain, right up to their delivery in stores.

This revolutionary innovation has many potential use cases other than financial transactions; including voting, healthcare record-keeping, entertainment, and even delivery of humanitarian aid. Although The Guardian suggests that Blockchain may be overhyped — not yet practically useful — and just as with AI, Blockchain also has risks attached, such as hacking, and the concentration of wealth and power.

Xavier Vasques, Director of the Worldwide IBM Systems Centre in Montpellier has said, “Technology, such as AI and blockchain, is already creating new opportunities for individuals, society, and the global economy, and is solving real problems. But, like any new technology shift, technology has the potential to disrupt the current livelihoods of millions of people.”

“Whether AI leads to unemployment and increases in inequality depends less on the technology itself, but more on the institutions and policies that are in place at the corporate and government levels. Companies must prepare for massive reskilling; governments must create programs and policies which lift the unskilled and individuals need to take personal responsibility for their skills growth.”

At the event in Paris Principal Jamatkhana, University and high school students heard about various types of jobs linked to artificial intelligence, and realised that most future jobs do not yet exist. According to the OECD, 17 per cent of all jobs will be completely automated and 35 per cent will be profoundly transformed. To address the skills gap, the European Commission is setting up policies for supporting advanced diplomas in the field of artificial intelligence, in particular through specific scholarships.

The digital revolution is still at an early stage. This first meeting allowed parents in the Jamat to grasp that the employment market for their children will be profoundly different from theirs, and gave them an opportunity to raise questions with the experts. This resulted in a promising and stimulating conversation that will call for more thought and exploration over time.

Source: The Ismaili

23 July 2019

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