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Tech Futures Survey and Report: Part Two

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In part two, Josephine Watson delves deeper into AI/ML and regulatory interventions in driving adoption. She also discusses the effects of pandemics.

Click here to read part 1 of Tech Futures Survey.

In our survey of 2021, AI/ML/blockchain were added as two areas that are of greatest interest for disruptive technologies in 2020.

Like last year, respondents believed that data/analytics will be the biggest impact in 2021 (22.35 % in 2021 as opposed to 35.85%) followed by personalisation (32.94% versus 35.85%).

It is worth noting that, while following the same trend, the margins between the two examples are wider, a phenomenon attributed to the increased applicability of the technology for different use cases.

Chatbots, on the other hand, seem to have gained more traction, jumping from 3.77% to 9.41%. Chatbots have also gained more popularity, rising from 3.77% in 2020 to 9.41% in 2021. This could be due to the fact that Covid-19 has led to a more dispersed workforce.

Luka is an AI-driven chatbot that could be a great way to personalize your approach.

The interest of respondents in automation has not changed much since 2020, as 17.65% expressed an intention to invest in the technology in 2021, compared with 15.09%.

The ethical issues surrounding the use of AI for online gambling, which we highlighted in last year’s study and expanded on this year, are one thing that we have taken into consideration.

When asked to describe the ethical challenges that they felt it might face, 36.53% of those who responded did not mention any. However, there were a number of other points raised.

Unsurprisingly, the greatest concern was its relation to responsible gambling. 21.15 percent of those surveyed expressed their discomfort.

One respondent expressed concern about the use of AI to manipulate lifetime values in a negative way. This is a human issue, and not a tech one.

Lauren Seiler, from Four Wood Capital, spoke as part of our panel at the Futures Survey Webinar in February. She said: “This isn’t a field that’s got the best reputation.” We could make matters worse if we use technology to the fullest extent.

Her concern was that newer players to online gaming raise greater concerns. Do they realize that they’re speaking with a robot and not someone? Are they aware that their behavior is tracked in order to tailor their experience for them?

The regulators, operators and all others should not go too far.

Also, 13,46% expressed concern about data privacy, including how AI would process data, the responsibility for data collection, and the possibility that the technology could “connect dots which are irrelevant”.

Concerns were also raised regarding consumer education, security and sustainability of technology in light of constantly changing regulatory regimes.

Julian Buhagiar (co-founder of RB Capital) told an audience member that he saw two sides in the discussion around AI/ML. “The first side is positive benefits – where can AI/ML assist. KYC is one of the most important problems that could be easily solved with more computing power. The privacy of data and how it’s used in a legal perspective are important. AI is dangerous if it’s misused. We need to know more about this.

One respondent highlighted this quite correctly, and our report 2020 also addressed it, but we’re still far from the AI being talked about by certain respondents.

Many conversations about the technology fail to differentiate between artificial narrow intellect (ANI), which is a technology currently available as machine learning, and more abstract concepts such as artificial superintelligence (beyond human abilities) or artificial general intelligence.

Adopting disruptive tech

In terms of the actual implementation of these technologies, we asked this year who is responsible for moving the industry forward. In fact, none of these technologies are “future technology” because they do not yet exist. They only have the ability to change the way the industry and the world as a entire is shaped.

We asked respondents about their opinion on the role of regulators in promoting new technologies. 40% said they strongly agree, and 38.82% agreed somewhat. Approximately 7% strongly or somewhat disagreed with the statement, while 14.12% were neither in agreement nor disagreement.

The panel was divided on how to respond to this topic. Buhagiar lamented the “draconian nature” of such an intervention. Regulation is bad, plain and simple. He said that the way things are done was bad. Now, the players are forced to go underground in order to find their fix. This is a major issue.

The operator is partly to blame because they didn’t lobby as effectively as they should have. We’ll see the results of their actions in three or four years.

The interaction of tech with regulation is, in his opinion, limited. “For example, what the regulation did to IP blocking and ensuring that specific actions are taken at specific events. AI might have provided insight. “For all that it can’t do it is right at predictions.”

Seiler’s experience in the US gave her a more sympathetic view: “Legislators have good intentions, but the system is almost monopolistic.” The monopolistic approach can stunt innovation and prevent people from understanding the potential of technology.

There’s a constant focus on its negative effects. You’re already dealing with very slim margins in the sports betting industry, especially if you are trying to attract grey and black market players. If you don’t have a project that is competitive, why would you want to attract players from the black or grey markets?

Marcel Tobler is the chief strategy officer of Grand Casino Baden. He said that based upon his experiences in Europe: “Regulations are often not based purely on logic, but rather on political opinion at any given time. With the Pandemic outbreak, many people realized that online gambling can be risky. Some people who worked at home, or didn’t work, got in trouble because they couldn’t control their gambling behavior.

We felt this had a significant impact on the way regulators view regulation and that the pressure was increased.

And while he did see hope in fostering innovation through relationship-building with regulators, “the big challenge is how to explain to a regulator how the new technology can help. It is important to know what the technology will add to regulations, tax revenues and player protection.

The overall sentiment is slightly higher than last year, when 70.06% of respondents agreed with the overall results and only 15.10% disagreed.

A respondent said: “Operators will always be limited by regulations and new disruptive technologies should also be adopted by regulators at the same time.”

Recent news suggests that regulatory authorities in countries such as Great Britain or France want to be more aware of new technologies and solutions for future-proofing their operation.

The jury is still out on whether or not the industry can fully adopt and use disruptive technologies. A majority of respondents (35.29%) did neither agree nor disagree with this statement.

There was a slight tilt towards agreement, with 17.65% strongly approving and 25.88% agreeing somewhat versus 18,82% disagreeing somewhat and only 2.35% strongly disapproving.

One question, however, was a little more unanimous. It concerned the role Covid-19 played in showing the importance of disruptive technologies. The majority of respondents (40%) were neither in agreement nor disagreement with the sentiment. However, 22.35 % strongly agreed with it, and 30.59 % somewhat agreed. Only 7.06% disagreed, and there was not a single respondent who strongly disagreed.

The panelists shared similar views with the audience throughout the entire webinar. Tobler stated: “This pandemic showed me that we do not need to use this advanced technology in most cases.” Most companies lack simple tools that allow them to automate their work and to be able to do it remotely.

While there have been some improvements in the past year, we still need to do more to facilitate and educate development within this sector. One respondent stated: “Gaming has been years behind in terms of technology and existing stacks do not match up to the new technologies.” The industry will be driven forward by new, independent technology and not incumbents.

The responses to our survey reveal a wide range of opinions about how far igaming has progressed in comparison with other industries. Some believe that the technologies are still underdeveloped, and we’re light-years away from using them, while others express frustration at the limited use they have seen so far.

There is still much work to do to prepare the industry, as well as its users for mass deployments. We don’t know how technology disruption will affect the gaming industry but it is certain that this next phase will be exciting.

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