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Generative AI is helping to shake up health research. Could it lead to a 'smoke-free' future?

Artificial intelligence is disrupting how we produce content. Could it also help move us to a tobacco-free future?
Artificial intelligence is disrupting how we produce content. Could it also help move us to a tobacco-free future? Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
By Damon Embling
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ChatGPT is making generative AI a household name. Beyond all the debate about content creation, it’s also disrupting health and science, but for the better?

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Research and development - or R and D - are a must for most big companies. A case of make or break, in the drive to survive in an increasingly competitive, tech-driven world.

But traditional ways of doing it are being shaken up with the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) - including generative AI - and the dawn of the metaverse.

"The pace of change is accelerating as we’ve never seen it before," Tommaso Di Giovanni, Vice President, International Communications, at Philip Morris International (PMI), told Euronews Next at the 2023 Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity.

"My take from this week is that probably right now, we're all concerned, or thinking about the process of how we're going to use AI and other innovations. But in the end, all of this at some point is going to be part of our daily lives," he continued.

"What I'm very curious about is more about the process, how do we get there, what are the do's and don'ts and where is all this going to drive us".

The rise of generative AI

ChatGPT has propelled generative AI into the spotlight, sparking all sorts of interest about the future of content generation.

But, by 2025, it is estimated that more than 30 per cent of new drugs and materials could also be systemically discovered using this new breed of technology. Drugs have already been designed in a matter of months.

This has come on top of other technological disruption in health and science, and widely acknowledged as opening the COVID-19 exit door.

"If you think about what happened in vaccines, this is how we solved largely the pandemic situation. Companies work with governments. The companies actually gave the technology, the innovations, the vaccines, in a few weeks. Something that was unprecedented," said Di Giovanni.

A 'smoke-free' future?

PMI has invested big time in R and D, employing scores of scientists and spending almost €590 million, as it works on trying to realise a goal of creating what it describes as a “smoke-free” future, offering smokers alternative products to cigarettes.

We’re pretty hi-tech in general because we had to develop new ways to assess the potential risk reduction, harm reduction of products that do not combust, versus cigarettes.
Tommaso Di Giovanni
Vice President, International Communications, PMI

As well as AI, the dawning potential of the metaverse is also pricking up its ears.

"We’re pretty hi-tech in general because we had to develop new ways to assess the potential risk reduction, harm reduction of products that do not combust, versus cigarettes, and that takes big data, you do need innovation and technology," explained Di Giovanni.

"When you’re talking specifically about AI, we’re looking into it of course, we’re very interested in what it can do, we believe it can do a lot. But this is a phase for us of observation, adaptation, we’re trying to understand how best to embed it with the right safety, security guards into our company".

PMI is a company facing regulatory resistance in some countries over the products it is developing. For some, it’s also contradictory that the company remains in the business of producing traditional cigarettes.

'Valid questions' around e-cigarettes and vaping

Almost 20 per cent of the EU population smokes daily, according to data compiled by Eurostat. In 2019, 5.9 per cent smoked 20 or more cigarettes each day, and 12.6 per cent smoked fewer than that.

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When it comes to alternatives, some smokers have switched to e-cigarettes. But these have attracted their own health concerns.

The UK has also been compelled to announce a crackdown on those sold or handed out to people under 18. The British government has described a rise in youth vaping as a cause for concern and says non-smokers should not be encouraged to start.

"If you think about all those products, e-cigarettes, heated tobacco, there's a few valid questions around them," Di Giovanni acknowledged.

"Are they going to be used, for instance, by the youth?" he added.

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"We have been looking at a system through facial recognition online, so that we can actually make sure that a product is only accessed by adults and possibly adults who smoke".

Watch the video in the media player above for more from this interview at the 2023 Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity.

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