European businesses are lagging behind Asian counterparts in AI adoption, according to IBM’s new Global AI Adoption Index, amid lingering concerns over regulation and safeguards for the technology.
The findings show a clear gap in adoption rates between the Asian and European markets. Among the nations with the highest levels of AI adoption are India (59%), the UAE (58%), Singapore (53%), and China (50%).
This is compared to the UK where 37% of enterprise-scale companies reported having actively deployed AI, and even fewer in Spain (28%) and France (26%).
The difference between the two regions’ approaches to AI is made more stark when comparing the proportion of companies actively deploying or exploring AI that have accelerated their efforts over the previous 24 months.
For example, 40% of IT professionals based in the UK said their company has accelerated AI roll-outs or investments over the last two years.
Whereas a significantly larger proportion of professionals working in China (85%), India (74%), and the UAE (72%), reported their organizations were intensifying efforts.
Booming budgets are driving Asian AI adoption rates
Speaking to ITPro, Jaeger Glucina, managing director of AI legal platform Luminance, said the adoption gap can be partly understood as the result of expanded technology budgets in Asian companies compared to their European counterparts.
“Asia has been a longstanding leader in terms of intellectual and data assets. If we take China as an example, the scale of the science and technology budget combined with the determined ambition to be a ‘major AI innovation center’ by 2030 goes some way in explaining the adoption gap we see today” Glucina commented.
Glucina warned a hesitant approach to AI adoption from European businesses could stifle innovation in the region, giving other markets an upper hand in an eventual “AI arms race”.
“As more and more countries attempt to compete in the AI arms race, we have seen Europe take a comprehensive but precautionary approach in terms of legislation. While this is understandable, applying overly precautionary principles could end up stifling innovation and leaving Europe lagging behind in the new era of AI adoption.”
The more circumspect approach towards AI from legislative bodies in Europe was also emphasized by John Barber, VP for Europe at Infosys Finacle, who told ITPro this is a key factor behind the adoption gap.
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“Europe has been traditionally cautious when it comes to usage of data. In general, there is conservatism that partly stems from its highly regulated environment,” he said.
“We see regulators here [in Europe] taking a more proactive approach compared to Asian markets, and that is true for all emerging tech, including AI. The European Parliament, for example, has moved to adopt the AI Act, which is the first comprehensive law we’ve seen on AI.
“Asian countries such as Singapore, on the other hand, have embraced a more flexible approach to AI regulations, emphasizing innovation over stringent controls. But no approach can be termed right or wrong, and it is the prerogative of the regulators to strike a balance between innovation and consumer rights.”
Barber also pointed out the disparity between the two regions’ consumer behavior and market dynamics could be influencing adoption rates.
“There is also a noticeable difference in consumer behavior and market dynamics between Asia and Europe,” he said. “In Asia, there’s a significant push towards digital-first approaches driven by a young and growing tech-savvy consumer base that readily adopts new technologies.”
“This consumer-driven demand accelerates the adoption of AI and other digital innovations by banks and financial institutions in Asian markets.”
“While Europe is home to many world-class AI research institutions, the region faces a shortage of skilled AI professionals to translate research into practical applications. The situation is similar in some Asian countries and hinders the development and deployment of sophisticated AI solutions.”
Making AI tools more accessible is key to driving adoption in skills-depleted UK
IBM’s findings align with recent data released by the Office for National Statistics detailing the extent to which UK firms are exploring the integration of AI solutions in their day-to-day operations.
Echoing Barber’s analysis, 38% of respondents said limited expertise and skills deficits relating to AI technologies were the most significant factor holding businesses back.
Almost a quarter of UK organizations lack employees with the required skills in place to leverage new AI tools. Similarly, 19% said they are struggling to find new staff with the requisite skills to address this deficit, IBM’s research shows.
Recent research shows in order to fill vacancies firms are having to relax their criteria for new hires and rely on upskilling them once they are in the role.
The high prices of AI tools (31%) and increasing data complexity (29%) were also explained to be inhibiting AI adoption in the UK.
When asked about the factors driving AI adoption, 51% of respondents said making AI tools more accessible was the most important change that would support transformation efforts.
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Solomon Klappholz is a Staff Writer at ITPro. He has experience writing about the technologies that facilitate industrial manufacturing which led to him developing a particular interest in IT regulation, industrial infrastructure applications, and machine learning.