You’ve read it in the news. You’ve seen it on TV. Every other week, artificial intelligence (AI) triumphs over feeble human intellect. The latest and most publicized victim is Lee Sedol, the former world champion of the ancient Chinese board game Go, who was trounced in a best-of-three competition by Google’s AlphaGo AI. With a magnitude of more abstract variations and subtleties than chess, Go was supposed to be beyond the grasp of machines for the foreseeable future, which reassured us that we could all rest easy at night, safe in the knowledge that our robot overlords are still quite a ways from gaining sentience and plugging us into the Matrix. This calls for a more serious look at a future in which the little computer in our pockets not only has surpassed us at every board game ever invented, but also could potentially do most of our work for us.
The idea of machines simply as number crunchers that are incapable of context-heavy, complex decision making has mostly passed us by. AI has not so quietly become entrenched within the consumer market. The annoying voice of Siri might only be able to tell you the weather right now, but companies like Apple are betting that by expanding the ecosystem of AI-ready software, Siri will soon become your navigator between apps, and will direct your precious eyes and ears to revenue-generating partners.
In a business context, specialized AI is already being used to power call centers, data processing and autonomous vehicles. Even industries that are traditionally considered expertise-intensive are not immune. It’s more than likely that when your financial advisor is peering at her computer screen, she’s looking at a short list of investments tailored to your needs, generated by an AI that checks your financial profile against investments that are of the appropriate risk level.
AI might not be trying to establish a robot empire, Terminator-style, but it certainly has huge potential in disrupting some of the fundamental drivers in your industry. However, if you view AI as competition and a potential threat to your business, you’re missing the point. The idea is not to beat AI at generating TPS reports—it’s that you never have to generate them on your own again.
AI can drive real value for your business by drastically increasing efficiency and providing real-time analysis to support decision making. Think of all of the potential opportunities in your day-to-day activities where AI could augment your expertise and elevate your work. Here are just a few examples:
- Save time by automating tedious and repetitive tasks.
- Provide real-time insights on vast amounts of data. For example, IBM’s forays into Watson include significant wins in the healthcare space, where an abundance of data previously had been underutilized due to stringent regulations and difficulties in processing the sheer volume of data to generate meaningful results. In one instance, Watson was able to significantly reduce the time required for analyzing cancer cells and, hence, reduce the time required to develop targeted treatment.
- Perform complex and detail-intensive tasks (preparing legal documents, financial statements, etc.).
- Conduct rapid prototyping and testing of strategies and business scenarios.
- Create end-to-end solutions that simplify the decision-making process.
The applications and reach of AI will be limited more by our ability to reconcile with this new mode of automation than by any technical barriers. Easing consumers or a workforce into working with AI should be top of mind for business leaders as they consider adoption of this potentially disruptive technology. To do this effectively, it’s important to ask the right questions. Thinking about how AI could maximize the effectiveness of your employees can smooth the integration of new technology into the decision-making process and drive value to customers. Helping employees develop expertise also fosters a sense of ownership and increases buy-in within a firm. An example of a creative solution for accelerating AI adoption is the acquisition of AI-based group-messaging apps by tech giants. Users are a lot more comfortable interacting with AI through the familiar wrapper of apps such as WhatsApp or Slack than navigating the steep learning curve of standalone AI technology.
Finally, be open to change. In business, there’s a very real disadvantage to figuring it out a step late. Just ask Blackberry. Maximizing the potential of AI represents the same type of technological leap. Don’t get trapped by the comfort of routine. The AI apocalypse is already happening. Embrace it or risk being left in the dust.