Tech companies have ‘big job to do’ to build trust in AI, committee hears

Issues around technology’s reliability and potential to displace jobs raised at Oireachtas enterprise committee

The world’s biggest technology companies have a “big job to do” to build public trust in artificial intelligence (AI), an Oireachtas committee has heard, and more research is required to establish a better understanding of the technology’s potential to displace jobs.

Representatives from Amazon Web Services, Google and Microsoft appeared before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment on Wednesday to discuss recent developments in AI and its impact on Irish businesses.

Committee members heard AI tools could eventually add €600 billion in gross value for the European economy, roughly equivalent to the size of the EU’s construction industry as a whole. Some AI products have the potential to improve productivity by eliminating repetitive tasks and saving time, the companies said, while others can help with data collection and cybersecurity.

However, members raised issues around trust and reliability and AI’s potential to upend working conditions and labour markets as a whole.

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Louise O’Reilly, Sinn Féin spokesperson on enterprise and employment, said that while there can be “incredible benefits” to AI adoption, there are widespread concerns about whether the technology will replace jobs and the effort and costs associated with implementing it within organisations.

Asked by Ms O’Reilly what technology companies can do to “win the debate on AI”, Jeremy Rollison, Microsoft’s head of EU policy, said “skilling” is important but so is engagement with regulators and governments.

“We have a big job to do”, Mr Rollison said. “And it’s not anything one entity alone can do to win that debate. I think we have to have a variety of conversations and we would like to lean into skilling and maybe we need to come up with a better word because it’s awareness, it’s training and it’s beyond just some of the computational skills. It’s very much how does this work in a day to day environment versus a professional environment.”

Against a rapidly shifting technological landscape, the committee heard that almost a quarter of all jobs globally will change by 2028, according to the world Economic Forum’s estimates, while 60 per cent will require “reskilling” in the next two years.

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Tech multinationals are “quite good at looking at the impact that generative AI technology is going to have on office workers,” said Kieran McCorry, national technology officer at Microsoft Ireland in response to Fine Gael TD David Stanton, but “less so” when looking at the impact on those working in more “labour-intensive tasks”.

Google’s representative, meanwhile, would not be drawn on when it would consider its Overview AI tool safe to roll out in Europe. The product, which provides a quick summary of answers to search queries at the top of Google Search, has been criticised following its launch in the US in recent weeks after returning nonsensical, inaccurate and offensive answers.

Responding to questions from Ms O’Reilly, Ryan Meade, public policy and government relations manager at Google Ireland, said he did not have any information on whether Google plans to launch the product in Europe. “Any plans to launch would be [made] in conjunction with regulators,” he said.

Ian Curran

Ian Curran

Ian Curran is a Business reporter with The Irish Times