Belgium has greatly advanced in its use of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies in business, a new report published by the Belgian Federal Planning Bureau concluded on Tuesday. The true impact of this repaid rollout of AI is still up for debate, with the study citing both positive and negative impacts on Belgium’s business environment.
In a survey of ten leading economies in Europe and Asia, based on data collected from the Committee on Industry, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship (CIIE) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2021, Belgium was found to be the second largest user of AI technologies, behind Denmark. The survey was notably conducted before the invention of solutions such as ChatGPT and other developments.
“Of the ten participating countries, Belgium has the strongest positive relationship between AI and productivity. In contrast to almost all other countries, this relationship is robust,” the report noted. Indeed, companies who onboarded AI the most were typically among the 10% most productive companies in the country.
The use of AI tools varies massively across the Belgian economy. The use of AI has been most widely adopted among large Belgian companies, notably those with over 250 employees. In total, 41.6% of these companies use AI tools and a further 25.2% develop AI solutions. For smaller companies, the use of AI was notably lower.
Companies aged between six- to ten-years-old are most likely to utilise some form of AI tools in their daily work. Belgium had some of the lowest adoption rates for AI among young companies from the countries surveyed.
“The development and use of AI is– unsurprisingly – especially high in ICT-intensive industries, such as computer programming, consultancy and related services, information services, telecommunications and IT products, electronic and optical products,” the Federal Planning Bureau reports.
Other Belgian industries, not typically associated with ICT technologies, have also become early adopters of AI technologies. Notably, the use of AI is relatively high in the publishing, audiovisual services, and broadcast industry (13%), as well as the chemical products sector (11%).
AI seems likely to fuel media and journalism in Belgium. It is the single largest user of AI tools (38% of companies), ahead of the electricity, gas, steam, and cooled air sector (27%), and wood, paper, stationary, and printing industry (23%).
Bad news for small businesses?
Not all companies are eager to race towards an AI-powered future. The 2021 survey asked companies why they were still unwilling to adopt AI solutions. Most cited a lack of experience to deploy the technology, or problems with data availability, incompatibilities with existing equipment or systems, and the high investment cost.
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The data shows promising early signs, but also worrying dynamics. The survey data is still not strong enough to show a strong link between AI and productivity, when considered alongside newer surveys.
The Federal Planning Bureau expresses its concern about “exaggerated expectations” about the economic impact of the deployment of AI. If this technology does take off further, and cause the economic revolution that some are anticipating, the bureau worries that this could have significant negative impacts.
“If AI actually leads to a strong increase in productivity growth in the future, as some predict, then the potential negative impact on jobs should be taken into account, but also with a further increase in the market dominance of a small number of very large companies,” it concluded.