People, get ready.
From the Microsoft antitrust case to ongoing investigations into the power of Big Tech, we have witnessed technology firms leap ahead of regulation to become dominant in many parts of life. But that was just a rehearsal compared to the inevitable concentration of wealth and power that will come with artificial intelligence (AI).
We’ve seen this before, right?
Think about it. Microsoft, Apple, Google together comprise the vast majority of services and operating systems in use today. As a result, they have accumulated vast power over how we live. Already, every business is a technology business, which implies that at some point every enterprise will be an AI enterprise.
Many already are. Data analytics extends beyond checking your Google traffic and goes all the way through to business processes and systems. Supermarket brands use data intelligence to decide what cadence to take when stocking shelves. That’s why you frequently find barbecue equipment suddenly appear on supermarket shelves on the first, fine days of summer.
This doesn’t happen by accident. The stock is ordered just in time on the basis of intelligence provided in part by automated systems predicting when that fine weather will strike, sometimes months ahead of time. That’s how supply chains work these days.
What happens when you can’t get the staff?
We already use an increasing quantity of AI in our daily lives; most people just don’t recognize it. But enterprise leaders do recognize it. That’s why machine learning, data science, data analysis, and AI are among the most in-demand tech jobs right now.
The problem, of course, is that there aren’t enough skilled workers for those posts. That’s great for the workers who are available, as it means they get paid well and can select their roles. It’s less good for competitive enterprises, who might have great ideas in the boardroom for how to deploy AI across their business, but lack access to the skills to make those visions happen.
So, what do they do? They outsource development to third-party companies which, through the standard procedure of mergers and acquisitions, will swiftly coalesce into a small number of competing firms.
Just look at the story of OpenAI and ChatGPT, Microsoft, and the current explosion of Generative AI. Suddenly everyone (or their shareholders) want to have a ChatGPT equivalent of their very own, at the same time as everyone else who should know better tells them that without it, they will fail. Apple, incidentally, could do some life-changing stuff with this tech.
Here comes the M&A ballet
That’s the kind of intense race that swiftly turns into an acquisitions frenzy in the AI development space, characterized by eye-watering deals and a highly competitive environment. GlobalData reports AI-related deal activity increased by 43% in Q1 2023 with $12.7 billion in deals across the first three months of this year.
Competition is good, some say, but in this case the most likely next step is that, in order to compete, companies lucky enough to find themselves in the space will abandon notions of ethical AI on the basis of the age-old argument that if they don’t do it, their competitors will.
You’ll see AI that just works, rather than works well. As power coalesces, you can predict a race to the bottom — followed by the steady emergence of a very small number of players in the space.
All the while, to make things even more “interesting,” those players will be pumping out the AI engines that contribute to decisions made by a growing number of businesses, enterprises, school districts, or government customers; they might even write the stories on the decisions AI takes.
This scenario is going to make claims of Apple’s App Store hegemony look like a day trip to Disneyland as the AI models themselves will almost certainly reflect the prejudices of those who own them — we’ve already seen warnings to that effect.
But perhaps it won’t matter too much, as we’ll all just slip on our mixed-reality goggles and take a few hours each day exploring a feel-good (fee-based) “metaverse” to take our minds off of what’s happening.
Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.
This story originally appeared on Computerworld