The 2021 Top Five Artificial Intelligence trends in Europe

Necessity being the mother of (re)invention, the COVID-19 pandemic is both a start and stop button of lockdowns and the trigger for an (almost) dramatic acceleration of digital transformation. 

We’ve witnessed major changes in the way we work, particularly with the generalisation, at least momentaneous, of home-based work. However, other changes are in the horizon as businesses all over the world come up with new digital models and capabilities in an effort to build resilience, adapt to a world post-pandemic and keep up with consumer preferences and expectations. 

It’s crucial, now more than ever, for businesses to keep up with fast-moving emerging technology trends, especially the ones that bloomed during these critical times, such as Artificial Intelligence. 

In this article, we dive into the top five Artificial Intelligence (AI) Trends that have the power to re-shape the business landscape in Europe in 2021.

2021 Top 5 AI Trends in Europe

We took inspiration from the PwC US publication on AI predictions 2021 and put together five AI trends in Europe. The old continent has certain particularities we’ve looked into.

  1. No doubt about it: AI investments will continue to increaseHere’s the thing, in 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic triggered the massive adoption of AI in almost all industries, mostly to ensure business continuity and speed up processes. Countries like France, Germany, China, India and the UK, just to name a few, sped up their AI deployments due to the economic shutdowns particularly in the field of Life sciences, according to Statista.
    How has the recent economic shutdown (due to the Coronavirus spread) in several countries impacted your investment in AI deployments?

    The 2021 Top Five Artificial Intelligence trends in Europe

    Home-based work continues to be the main option to keep business continuity through full or partial lockdowns and quarantines in 2021. Companies, then, will take advantage of AI-powered solutions to alleviate any disruption that may affect workers who are client-based, human-touch workers, and knowledge workers on home-base work, according to this article.

    Many companies will take it a few steps further, pushing AI to new boundaries, investing in software and hardware that allow holographic meetings, boardroom simulations, and even gamify strategic planning. 

  2. The upgrade of AI strategies to include advanced automationThe fastest way to get value from AI and accelerate ROI is using the advanced automation capabilities they offer so as to improve efficiency and productivity. That’s the top goal for any AI strategy.

    However, there are a few other goals to consider such as increased innovation and revenue growth. AI, therefore, becomes an ally in strategic decisions. According to the PwC US survey cited above, the majority of respondents have increased investments in AI for workforce planning, followed by simulation modeling and supply chain resilience. 

    In fact, when put together, these investments can make AI an invaluable partner, closing the gap between idea and execution to drive faster and better decisions. COVID-19 has accelerated this more advanced use of AI, and it has provided a major payoff during the pandemic—a payoff that should continue long into the future.

    In Europe, with the right data, models and regulation, AI could be used to sense coming changes in the European markets and risks to businesses supply chains. It can think through options for organisations’ investments, workforce and go-to-market strategies. It can also help businesses decide and act, while continually monitoring and improving their own performance. This dynamic approach to AI is no longer a distant dream. It’s now within reach in 2021! 

  3. From risk awareness to risk action, the time for responsible AIThe good news is businesses are very much aware of AI risks; the bad? Most of them aren’t actually mitigating them. According to the PwC US AI trends 2021 survey, the top three priorities for AI applications this year are: 1) implementing responsible AI tools to improve privacy, explainability, bias detection and governance; 2) ensuring that AI-driven decisions are interpretable and easily explainable by those who operate AI systems; and 3) ensuring that AI is compliant with applicable regulations, including privacy. 

    In Europe, the technology-related priorities in the past few years, whose pace is set by the EU, have mainly focused on the regulatory side of data privacy.  Europe takes into consideration ethical and human-centric aspects, which are in line with core human rights values and democratic principles, according to this article. This means, every action and any competitive edge Europe might have, will be under the banner of “Responsible AI”.

    European citizens show growing concerns on the potential negative impacts of unchecked AI in society. In 2020, similar to what happened in other regions, there was a significant growth of both AI investment and AI technology usage, triggered mostly by the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermaths. According to this Forrester podcast, in 2021 European policymakers will shift their attention from e-privacy and turn their full attention towards AI, working on developing solid frameworks that promote responsible AI. 

    Betting on Responsible AI is arguably an effective way to mitigate AI risks—or maybe the most. When using AI to support business-critical decisions based on sensitive data, one needs to be sure that understands what AI is doing, why and how it does it.

    This, to make sure that it makes accurate, bias-aware decisions (if that’s the case), and that is governed and monitored properly. If businesses want to use AI, they need to take responsibility for it, from A to Z.

  4. Upskilling on steroids: New talents strategies will emergeUpskilling is necessary. We are much aware of it as automation and AI continues to develop. However, there’s a growing debate on what really might be “enough”. One of the long-term impacts of AI is likely to be net job growth, but new jobs will emerge and they’ll be different from the old ones. According to the European Parliament’s Think Tank 2020, the labor productivity related to AI will increase between 11% and 37% by 2035.

    Consider, for example, the new generation of services and products in sectors such as green and circular economy, mechanical engineering and agriculture. In the meanwhile, AI can optimise maintenance techniques, increase production performance and quality, and even give a boost to customer service.

    Many new jobs will influence the technology put in place in your organisation, the way employees deal with these techs and how they’ll need to adapt to them by learning new ways of working and thinking. The best way to prepare for this eventuality is to work on accurate foresight, one that can provide projections of the future trends in employment, and analyse the current and future population’s skills base.

    In Europe, according to this article, DIGITALEUROPE, a member of the Belgian association AGORIA, has already launched a AI-powered project called “Be The Change”.  It aims to assess the potential impact of digitalisation both in terms of the number of emerging and disappearing jobs and of the evolving skill sets people need so they can navigate with more chances of success in the evolving labour market. 

  5. AI models will be on reorganisation mode The reorganisation triggered by AI goes beyond breaking down business silos. No matter how we look at it, AI priorities and implementation cross the entire organisation. Unless you already effectively share data, subject matter expertise, governance, and AI models across teams and functions, you are going to have to reorganise your business to enable collaboration.

    Nobody said changing is easy. Change requires a cultural shift so that everyone’s decisions become more based on data — and the simulations and forecasts that AI produces from that data. The fact that AI models are constantly improving themselves is an add-on to push the need for being in a permanent beta version. It pushes businesses to constantly adapt and improve. 

    Businesses will need to be ready to pivot quickly, sometimes faster than on a yearly planning cycle; few organisational flow charts, however, are currently set up for this kind of speed. 

    A priority will be to apply AI and analytics into an organisation starting from the bottom, such as automating routine tasks. But bear in mind that, no matter which priorities businesses might have on their pipeline when it comes to AI, internal reorganisation is inevitable.

What we think
Andreas Braun, Senior Manager at PwC Luxembourg
Andreas Braun, Senior Manager at PwC Luxembourg

Really leveraging AI is a complex endeavour –to really understand all the facets needed for a responsible use of it. Many companies are using AI and the potential applications keep on increasing. However, we believe that many more organisations can benefit from AI. Finding the right talent and rethinking organisational structures, reimagining work processes, risk management and, ultimately, the business model, all can be triggered with the implementation of AI solutions. They also open the door for leaders to tackle the uncertainty and fear that often comes with new technologies, and allows them to train employees to see their value, how they can influence their lives and careers for the better.

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