Could AI be Hungary’s Secret Fast Track?

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Lázár Todoroff/AmCham

Automation can bring higher added-value jobs to the country and ease the labor shortage. SMEs need to apply more of that cutting-edge tech, though, which is a prerequisite for Hungary to gain on competitiveness, speakers at the American Chamber of Commerce in Hungary’s Artificial Intelligence conference agreed.

AmCham launched its first conference on Digitalization with local and international experts in 2018 with the aim of discussing digital trends, the most pressing challenges, potential competitive edges and how all of these impact the business community in Hungary. This year’s second edition chose artificial intelligence as its central topic.  

The establishment of the AI Coalition in November 2018 was one of the key measures taken to ensure Hungarian businesses get ready systematically for the disruption this new technology will bring. Six working groups have the mission to identify specific needs and potential directions for development from cloud platforms to smart hospitals to chat bots in government services. Huge efforts are made to channel this knowledge to the right places as the country’s long-term competitiveness depends on it.

“Hungary ranks among the EU countries with the fastest access to mobile broadband and in terms of digital infrastructure in general, but we lag behind when it comes to applying cutting-edge tech in day-to-day business operation,” stressed László György, State Secretary for Economic Development and Regulation at the Ministry for Innovation and Technology.

“The AI Coalition therefore can’t aim for anything less than to forge partnerships between key stakeholders and generate high-quality pilot programs which are set to propel Hungary to the front in the global digital race.”

New Microsoft Hungary CEO Christopher Mattheisen outlined why democratizing AI is important and how it could unleash unprecedented development. The cloud allows access to information from anywhere, which is of immense value; on the other hand, Internet of Things hardware such as sensors have become very cheap, and that has lowered the barrier of entry for a vast number of players in the tech arena.

All that is boosted by real-time analysis and the application of data that will enable machines to improve themselves without human interaction.

Leave None Behind

Large corporations already benefit from the latest AI-based solutions in Hungary. Waberers’ cloud-based AI tech has resulted in huge efficiency gains in its logistics operations, whereas Praktiker’s self-learning system has tripled its online sales. However, SMEs should not be left behind, either.

“Democratizing AI means building tools that help you have your customized, deep-learning systems up and running by a few clicks, whether it’s about chat bots or a smart supply chain management system. Hyper-scale clouds are key as they can level the playing field between the behemoths and the smaller players,” Mattheisen said.

“Given the circumstances, actually we have reached the point where it is fair to talk about rather Augmented Intelligence.” Ultimately, rather than being scared, companies should embrace AI as it allows them to provide better services.

Hungary, in particular, has a lot to gain. By introducing AI in as many sectors as possible, more higher added-value jobs could be created. Widespread automation would also help overcome the chronic labor shortage the country is faced with. The global AI arms race is in full swing, but that doesn’t mean smaller countries are helpless.

“Singapore and Estonia stepped up successfully to meet the challenges of the digital era. There’s no reason Hungary can’t do the same,” Mattheisen concluded.

People Still Needed

Workers should have a little faith, too, that their contribution will remain important, although, for instance, the Bank of England estimates that 66% of jobs in the United Kingdom are now at risk from automation. True enough, repetitive tasks will be carried out by machines and efficiency is set to improve. But jobs will also be created along the way.

“Anything that can be quantified, will be done by AI; however, solutions will continue to come from people,” noted Ildikó Taksz, lead partner of financial services at Big Four firm KPMG. “The future should belong to a sort of blended AI where humans and robots can complement each other’s work.”

Artificial intelligence also embodies the highest level of automation. As opposed to rule-based or data-based systems, self-learning algorithms can teach themselves various tasks, and thus improve without human intervention. It provides the benefit of maximum flexibility since no human bias is at play and no prior knowledge about the solution is needed.

Steps are urgently needed to properly gear up in the local corporate world as digital disruption is flooding the entire economy. It started with music, then continued with movies, TV and entertainment.

In a few years’ time, all current “safe havens” will be subject to digital disruption, and Europe needs to ask the question how it plans to keep up in spite of strict regulations that tend to typically penalize American big tech.

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