“We should not be blinded by the impressive technology behind AI”

Published on: 13 April 2023

The introduction of ChatGPT suddenly brings Artificial Intelligence (AI) to the living rooms of ‘ordinary’ citizens. AI has become mainstream. And the entire world throws itself at it. What does this mean for the provision of financial services? Will it change the way we invest? What is the impact on customer contact? And: is our society actually ethically and legally ready for artificial intelligence? In this series, experts from inside and outside APG will be looking for the answers to these questions.


In part 4: Ron Jongen, innovator at the GroeiFabriek of APG.


How do you think Roy Amara would have looked at ChatGPT should he still be alive? The former American researcher and scientist became primarily known for the law that was named after him, addressing the effect of new technologies. According to Amara, people tend to overestimate the impact of innovations on the short term (between now and two years) but underestimate the impact in the long term (between now and fifteen years).

It is therefore not surprising that Ron Jongen, innovator at the GroeiFabriek – the innovation lab of APG – immediately refers to this law when he talks about the extremely rapid developments in the field of AI. Because due to the tsunami of worldwide attention for ChatGPT and all its derivatives, the perspective seems to be compromised somewhat at times, according to (Ron) Jongen. “Look, as it should be for an enthusiastic innovation department such as the GroeiFabriek, we also jumped at it straight away. We are still very busy with it but especially when it comes to a phenomenon such as this one, it is advisable to map the entire field of view. And don't be immediately blinded by the impressive technology.”


To reflect on the words of Amara: do we indeed overestimate the impact of AI on the short term?

“Let me make it clear that regenerative AI (where the technology behind artificial intelligence is able to create something new based on existing data, ed.) has truly made an amazingly huge step with the introduction of ChatGPT. Yes, the technology is impressive. And it can offer a great deal of opportunities. But there's also another side: risks, teething problems because of the new technology, improper use of AI. In order to properly assess the impact of AI on the world, you also have to explain and analyze those sides. That's what I mean by mapping the field of view. We are currently busy doing so.”


And what are your findings?

“In any case that the real solutions AI can offer for the pension industry – which is obviously what we are doing at APG and the GroeiFabriek – will probably still take a while to be implemented. After ChatGPT was introduced, we immediately initiated a so-called exploration: looking at the technology from different sides. And to determine based upon the outcomes: What can it do? How will it develop? And what can we already do now and in five years' time?”


Partly thanks to ChatGPT, AI is rapidly being used professionally in increasingly more industries. Why do you expect it to help the pension industry only after such a lengthy period of time?

“Just to be clear: APG is already using forms of AI. So, it's not the case that we will only be looking at what artificial intelligence could mean to us in two years' time. But as a pension administrator we are – justifiably – heavily regulated. We manage a lot of money from a lot of participants in the name of our pension fund customers. Our service provision for all of these people therefore has to be entirely right. AI can do a great deal but it's not flawless. It contains mistakes and is sometimes still biased. And yes, the technology is also developing further, but we have to be absolutely sure that it is safe to use which is currently not yet the case.”


You also point out the improper use of AI. Is that a risk for the pension industry as well?

“You lower the threshold. For example, it is currently very easy to have a legal letter of complaint prepared within a few seconds. You obviously don't want people to massively start utilizing this option to block certain laws and regulations or to unnecessarily delay certain procedures.”

APG uses AI in speech-to-text applications, where phone calls with participants are converted into text in real-time. To what extent can new technologies, such as ChatGPT, help to improve this further?

“That is something we are exploring at the moment. We have meanwhile conducted several tests during which we had those texts summarized by ChatGPT. With – in all honesty – amazing results. That same technology can also help us ‘merge’ different models. In the past we created AI models on very specific applications, with very specific output. Rather labor-intensive to develop. Through self-supervised learning, AI models can be trained much quicker now. And the new models are becoming so ‘smart’ that you can choose, as a user, what output the model has to generate. Think about text, video, audio. That will definitely help us. But eventually it continues to be essential that the data used by AI is correct. Garbage in, garbage out still applies in that respect. The difference is mainly that we now have way more data at our disposal and are also able to process these data. Imperfections in your data therefore have a much smaller impact on your output.”


So, leaving the customer contact entirely up to the computer is not yet the case?

“No, I believe a link with real people will still be needed for a very long time. But it does make our work easier.”


People of a less optimistic nature could say: it may even make our work superfluous.

“That is of course of all times. When the steam train was introduced, people were afraid it would replace horse and carriage. Technology paves the way for some acceleration and inspiration. An addition to our work, making sure we are able to focus on matters you are good at. I think the focus will shift. And that it also opens up new positions. Within five years' time, I am certain we will have the position of prompt engineer: someone specialized in writing prompts – the commands you give AI.”


What are you looking forward to the most yourself?

“In the new pension system – and in the run-up towards it – easily accessible, comprehensible communication to participants is more important than ever. I see much potential in how it can simplify and enrich the content. For example, that AI is able to provide an explanation in speech on complex diagrams.”


Great opportunities for the GroeiFabriek?

“Many events and sessions are currently organized by APG to share knowledge on this interesting theme with one another. Who knows what the outcomes of those events and sessions will be!”