Today’s conversation about the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on people, jobs, and society is not so different from the early days of cloud computing.
In 2009, I helped launch the first cloud-based email service for business. Until then, every company had a server room and a team of IT professionals running their corporate email systems. When we started talking with companies about moving to cloud-based email, IT professionals gave a dozen reasons why they could never make the switch — it wasn’t secure enough, lacked the performance they required, or couldn’t meet their functional needs.
In time, we came to realize these were not true technical limitations. The real reason they didn’t want to shift to the cloud was not the tech but concern about the impact on their jobs, the relevance of their roles, and their professional identity. With this realization, we focused on ensuring these dedicated IT professionals had opportunities to retrain and upskill in cloud technology.
The cloud has been a massively transformative technology, yet its impact will pale compared to AI’s on people, jobs, and society. Businesses such as SAP, NGOs, and intergovernmental organizations all have important roles to play to ensure the benefits of AI extend to everyone and that no one is left behind.
It Begins with Trust
Trust in technology is crucial. If AI is used nefariously, doesn’t give reliable results, or perpetuates biases, large segments of the population will not trust the technology enough to use or benefit from it.
For our part, SAP Business AI solutions are built with the highest concern for security, privacy, compliance, and ethics. We require our internal AI Ethics Steering Committee to review every AI use case in consultation with an external AI Ethics Advisory Panel of cross-disciplinary experts.
We also have a comprehensive framework for mitigating risk in AI. This includes ensuring no use case crosses our pre-defined red lines, such as perpetuating discrimination or abuse. Our AI capabilities, for example, help ensure the use of inclusive language in job descriptions and interview questions, and we provide our AI Ethics Handbook online for everyone to access.
Bridging the AI Skills Gap
With generative AI, the pace of innovation is faster than any other technology change I’ve experienced. Tech workers, like those in my opening story, could be left behind without an intentional focus on education and training.
Companies like ours are releasing new training and tools to close the skills gap. Last year, SAP announced an ambitious goal to upskill 2 million professionals by 2025. And we’ve seen 1.5 million new learners taking advantage of our offerings, meaning we’re on track to exceed our goals easily. But we’re not going to stop. The need and the opportunity are too great.
We have also made it easy for developers to find and use AI tools by launching AI Foundation on SAP BTP. This one-stop shop provides ready-to-use AI services and tools to accelerate the development of generative AI-infused applications in a secure and trusted way.
AI Benefits Must Accrue Equally Worldwide
In January 2023, the World Economic Forum reported that the division in AI between the Global North and South was deepening. Education and career opportunities must extend beyond the tech sector and be accessible to under-represented populations.
Take the continent of Africa, which is set to have more young people entering the workforce by 2035 than the rest of the world combined, where supporting education and career opportunities will result in better technological advancements and reduced inequalities. The SAP Educate to Employ program, launched alongside UNICEF and Generation Unlimited, seeks to create pathways to technical jobs for underserved young people in countries such as Nigeria, South Africa, and Kenya.
Momentum continues to grow. This year, SAP, as part of the World Economic Forum’s Global Alliance for Social Entrepreneurship, joins together with Microsoft, EY, and others to support a new working group focused on AI for Social Innovation. Together, we are mobilizing resources to address the use of AI to positively impact issues such as human rights and climate action.
There is no question AI will radically change the way we live and work. We all have the power to shape this transformative technology so it operates responsibly and benefits everyone.
Julia White is chief marketing and solutions officer and a member of the Executive Board of SAP SE.