Back What is the extent of our digital footprint? Challenges and dilemmas in Industry 4.0. Manuel Portela

What is the extent of our digital footprint? Challenges and dilemmas in Industry 4.0. Manuel Portela

Manuel Portela, member of the research group Web Science and Social Computing (WSSC) reflects on the challenges of the industry to apply artificial intelligence and maintain ethical principles. 



On Wednesday, 31 January, the IoT Solutions World Congress began at Fira Barcelona, an event that brings together the technology industry and connected objects. One of the premises of this year is the hybridization between humans and machines, whether in industry or in products used by consumers, such as autonomous cars. In industry it is no novelty to use data and optimization algorithms that connect to sensors and other devices associated with robotics to perform autonomous work, or assist people in complex tasks. However, in the world of consumers this is an emerging field, especially in the creative industries.  

For example, there has been much talk these days about ChatGPT and Midjourney as the mecca of artificial intelligence (AI).  While the technological advances are spectacular, there is still a long way to go to be able to understand the reach of the utility of these systems and where it is incompatible with our autonomous capability and our privacy. 

One of the dilemmas facing industry is how to be able to take advantage of new developments in AI. On the one hand, we find academic advancements that have not been transformed into products; but we also find products that have limited use. While the tools generated are increasingly easy to implement, we see industry advancing timidly in this regard. There are few cases in which large companies commit to very advanced novel technologies, such as Microsoft’s recent investment in OpenAI (creator of ChatGPT). But it is not yet clear how it will be utilized, and what benefit will be gained from this investment. And this is one of the major drawbacks to the commitment: turning investment into profit. 

One possibility would be the path that some brands have taken by adopting the seal of sustainability to set them apart from their competitors and gain a slice of the market. In this regard, some companies prefer to invest in order to position themselves as innovative companies and be associated with these proposals and advancements, despite not being profitable. 

On the other hand, the advantage of being able to exploit hitherto underused data must be taken into account. Thanks to the modernization of many industries and the deployment of sensors, many companies have data that are used only for simple statistical purposes and business analysis. However, these data have a great deal of potential. And until now they required very expert knowledge and advanced tools to process them. 

While it is a great opportunity, it highlights a crucial issue, which is the use of consumer data to exploit them commercially. Here the regulation can lend us a hand, since, according to the European General  Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), it is required to request explicit consent for their use at the time of collection. However, it is very difficult to verify that this is adhered to when using any device, and there is also the global nature of industry that renders it difficult to apply. 

Therefore, industry faces different challenges that, on the one hand drive it to innovate, but on the other, limit the implementation of changes due to the difficulty of establishing ethical principles to develop businesses that uphold the privacy of their users and are at the same time profitable. 



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