The Digital World towards 2040: the rise of AI & Intelligent Autonomy






"Future shock is the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time." Alvin Toffler in Future Shock, 1970

Alvin Toffler said these words more than 50 years ago. Today, at the dawn of AI, we are on the edge of a vast unknown horizon. Each of us, policymakers, companies, or individuals, must draw upon our personal ability and unique talents to adapt and recreate ourselves. The “Digital World Towards 2040" report presents a concise, pragmatic and optimistic perspective of this world. The report comprises three main sections: technology, society and economy. Two additional sections discuss the impact on Europe and the challenges policymakers are facing.

The widespread adoption of generative AI presents both opportunities and challenges for legislators. The rate of technology adoption will only increase in the age of AI. The issues at hand are well-known: fostering innovation, securing employment, and overhauling education, among others. What has shifted, however, is the magnitude, speed of change, and concurrent impact across various domains.

In this report, we see generative AI as one of the founding technologies on the road to Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). AGI is a type of artificial intelligence that can understand, learn, and apply knowledge across a wide range of tasks, just like a human. ChatGPT reached a million users in just five days. Similar to electricity and the internet, generative AI is a foundational technology with the potential to transform industries, economies, and societies. Such foundational technologies quickly become embedded in daily life, spurring economic growth and facilitating new technologies and services.


AI - The biggest disruptor for Europe since the Second World War

What is the impact of AI on Europe? In a nutshell, AI could be the biggest disruptor for Europe post-Second World War. Why? Because in whichever form it manifests, the adoption of AI has the potential to change the social contract. A social contract proposes that individuals have consented, either explicitly or implicitly, to surrender some of their freedoms and submit to the authority of the government in exchange for the protection of their remaining rights and the maintenance of social order. The idea of formulating a new social contract in the age of AI may be the top priority of policymakers worldwide.

Imagining a world dominated by AGI 

We propose ‘Intelligent autonomy’ as the central paradigm where machines acquire enough intelligence to collaborate semi-autonomously with humans under some human agency and oversight. We break down the idea of intelligent autonomy into the following areas: Artificial Intelligence, specifically Artificial General Intelligence; Autonomous collaboration between humans and AI; Economic and Social Impact of intelligent autonomy; Impact on the European Union; and Broader impact on the ecosystem, for example, sustainability.

We propose three markers on the road to AGI: The ability of AI to understand Natural language, the ability of AI to reason, and the widespread availability of bipedal autonomous robots. The report emphasises skills, education, geopolitical considerations, and the ability of AI to solve large-scale systemic problems like sustainability and climate change. It encourages investment in AI, especially skills, compute, education, and innovation, from the standpoint of the benefits to fundamental science and technology.

The Impact of AI on the acceleration of fundamental research

The report was created in the backdrop of the EU AI Act - the world's first regulation. At the time of writing, a consensus has been reached, paving the way for the deployment of the AI Act, benefiting the community, industry, and innovation. But the AI Act is just the beginning on the long road ahead. The impact of AI on the acceleration of science and technology will be the real goal for countries and policy makers. AI will impact almost all areas of fundamental research acting as a catalyst to whole new industries due to its ability for large scale pattern management. These include Climate Science (climate modeling); Healthcare and Biomedical Research (genomics, personalized medicine); Quantum Computing and Physics (simulations) and Materials Science (Battery technology).

This will require nurturing the development of foundational AI models through investment in skills, hardware, datasets and a policy framework that encourages skills, innovation and start-ups.

Some strategic considerations in crucial areas:

    • Education

      > The implementation of AGI awareness in the curriculum, including digital literacy, AI-assisted learning, AI-assisted work scenarios, ethics, and policy;

      > Teacher training and support programs creation;

      > Industry partnership for certifications and curriculum.

    • Skills

      > Lifelong learning initiatives that encourage continuous skill development, with a focus on skills complementary to AGI, such as creativity, problem-solving, and emotional intelligence;

      > Investment in upskilling and reskilling programmes aimed at workers in sectors most likely affected by AGI;

      > The fostering of an AGI-ready workforce by aligning vocational training and higher education with emerging tech trends and market needs, emphasizing interdisciplinary skills and AGI literacy.

    • Creation of Foundation Models

      > Investment in research on foundation models, encouraging collaboration across European universities, research institutions, and industry players;

      > The development of ethical guidelines and responsible AI standards for the development and deployment of foundation models is suggested, prioritizing transparency, fairness, and accountability.

      > Data governance frameworks implementation to ensure the ethical use of data in training foundation models, addressing concerns of privacy and bias, is proposed.

      > Support for open access policies for research outputs to foster innovation is encouraged, ensuring that smaller entities and researchers can contribute to and benefit from the advancements in AGI.

    • Geopolitics

      > Engagement in international dialogues and agreements on AGI governance, sharing European values and experience in governance;

      > The pursuit of strategic autonomy in critical AGI technologies, while ensuring European values are embedded in AGI development;

      > Strengthening cybersecurity defences and developing AGI capabilities for national defence, while promoting peace and stability in cyberspace through diplomatic efforts, is suggested;

      > Advocacy for the equitable distribution of AGI benefits and research globally, especially in developing countries, to prevent widening the digital divide across nations and ensuring global stability.

    • Science and Research

      > Encouragement and investment in interdisciplinary AI research; 

      > The building of innovation ecosystems that support startups and SMEs in AGI-related fields, providing access to funding, mentorship, and collaboration opportunities with larger firms and research institutions;

      > Encouragement of global research partnerships.