Deepfake: face swapping is a key aspect of digital manipulation.

Deepfake images such as the distorted photo of Rishi Sunak pulling a pint in a pub last summer pose a critical threat to democracy as the US and the UK go to the polls this year.

This is the message of Shweta Singh, Assistant Professor of Information Systems and Management at Warwick Business School, as breakthroughs in AI-manipulated media threaten to weave ever greater webs of false information.

“We urgently need a set of ethical principles which can assure and reassure users of these new technologies that the news they are reading is trustworthy and, by the same token, the political adverts they are seeing are reliable,” says Dr Singh.  

There are a number of potential mechanisms that could be employed to stem the tide of fake media, according to Dr Singh. These include ‘watermarking’ tools to detect what has been AI-generated, or solutions that act like email spam filters, flagging content as being ‘likely AI-generated’.

Whatever the mechanism applied, though, she urges us to “act on this now”.

“It is impossible to imagine fair and impartial elections if regulations don’t exist,” she says.

How will AI impact financial services?

In the field of financial services, however, Professor of Information Systems Management, Ram Gopal, is more sanguine.

“Advancements in data science and AI will enable further personalisation and customisation of financial services,” says Professor Gopal, who is Director of the Gillmore Centre for Financial Technology at WBS.

“Digital wealth management platforms will leverage algorithms to analyse client behaviours and recommend tailored investment portfolios aligned with individual risk appetites.

“Generative AI holds promise for making complex financial concepts more understandable for mainstream audiences, promoting financial inclusion.”

Still, he recommends vigilance. “Flawed AI implementations present a threat, as evidenced by a major fund or institution likely facing significant AI or data-related challenges in the next few years,” he says. “This will underscore the importance of governance, education, and experience in leadership roles during AI adoption.”

He adds: “In light of security and privacy concerns, we expect financial institutions to emphasise development of open source, customisable language models tailored to their specific needs rather than reliance on large proprietary systems.”

Whatever the risks, though, AI will play a significant role in driving the financial world in 2024 and beyond, according to Professor Gopal. The steady march towards digital payments will continue globally, led by traditional platforms but supplemented by new decentralised account-to-account transaction channels and central bank digital currency pilots. Financial institutions will further warm to blockchain technology while cryptocurrency adoption will also increase.

“While technological change brings both promise and some peril, the dominant trends point towards better personalised services, transparency, efficiency, and accessibility going into 2024 across the financial system,” he says.

AI in education

Much has been made of the peril that AI poses to education, particularly of ChatGPT’s apparent ability to write students’ essays for them. But Isabel Fischer, Reader in Information Systems, urges us to take a more nuanced view of AI, rather than just focusing on generative AI.

“AI is much more multifaceted than the well-known generative AI tools such as ChatGPT, Bard and Claude, and it has overlooked potential to transform education beyond just text and image generation,” Dr Fischer argues.

A case in point, she says, is a Large Language Model called BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) that could revolutionise a wide range of fields, including education. Unlike GPT that generates new text by ‘predicting’ the most appropriate next word and effectively writing on behalf of the user, BERT can be deployed to provide specific, tailored feedback to the user.

She and her colleagues are already using BERT to develop an on-demand formative feedback tool employing knowledge graphs to help students learn how to improve their own academic writing. Both students and educators develop expansionist curiosity and mindsets along the way.

“Perhaps 2024 could be the year when we all embark on a more holistic digital transformation journey,” Dr Fischer says.

The future of Ukraine

One of the leading exponents of digital transformation is a country that is making all the headlines for different reasons. It will have gone almost unnoticed but just before Christmas Ukraine announced, albeit from a bomb shelter, its Innovation Vision for 2030, laying out a ‘digital first’ future for Ukrainians. Part of that future already involves a ground-breaking mobile app that connects all its citizens to the country’s public services.

“Digital will play a key role in the rebuilding of Ukraine post-war and in its education system,” Associate Professor Bo Kelestyn says.

Last summer, Dr Kelestyn welcomed 40 education professionals from war-torn Ukraine to the University of Warwick to participate in The Ukrainian Education Rebuilding Summer School – part of a knowledge exchange partnership now forged between the University of Warwick, the Ukrainian Leadership Academy and Ukraine’s Ministry of Education and Science.

The partnership is eagerly anticipating an education-focused announcement by the Ukrainian government early in 2024, based on the latest digital state project called Mriia (meaning ‘dream’ in Ukrainian). Mriia, initially announced as a pilot by President Zelenskyy in September 2023, is an innovative educational app which provides a personalised learning space for every learner.

Despite all our concerns about digital technology and AI, then, it does seem that they can be harnessed for the greater good. Self-evidently, there are varying features to the digital revolution, both for good and ill. As we journey through 2024, the trick for governments and organisations alike will be to decide how and when to apply them responsibly.  


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