Digital Intern, This is Milk
In the fourth of our 'On the Horizon' articles - a series of posts exploring future business and society trends - we investigate Artificial Intelligence and the possible implications for business and people.
The power of the human brain.
One of the most sophisticated structures that humanity has at its disposal - if not THE most sophisticated one - is the human brain. The computational power and decision-making capabilities of the human brain haven't been matched by neither other life forms nor by machines. So far. Recent technological advances should make us wonder if this will be the case for much longer. One of those advances that really stands out and is becoming ever more popular is Artificial Intelligence (AI). And for good reason. AI has the potential to be the apex technology of our age. The future opportunities it can bring to business and society to significantly disrupt the status quo and change our lives are exciting and perhaps a bit scary.
The term 'Artificial Intelligence' has become quite mainstream in the last few years but the concept of AI is older and goes back a few decades. At its core, Artificial Intelligence can be described as the ability of machines to exhibit intelligence and to undertake cognitive tasks usually associated with the human brain, such as learning, problem-solving and decision-making. Even though Artificial Intelligence has been around for a while, we have begun to tap into the power of AI only recently. Better algorithms that allow computers to learn from available data without being explicitly programmed to do so (Machine Learning), Big Data, and increased computational power are just some of the recent technological advances that have facilitated the rapid spread of AI.
According to Accenture's research 85% of the executives that responded have plans to invest heavily into Artificial Intelligence and AI-related technologies over the next three years, with 79% believing that AI can help with organisational adoption of technology. Undoubtedly, Artificial Intelligence is an interesting and complex topic and clearly business and technological leaders consider it as an important future factor.
How might Artificial Intelligence impact business and society?
In the short term
Artificial Intelligence is not a thing of the future, it's here now. The AI that we interact with today is known as 'weak' AI and usually has a narrow task. For example, Facebook's face and image recognition and Spotify's discovery playlists are cases of AI that are already being used successfully by organisations to improve their services. In the short term we can expect to see further spread of AI in other organisations.
In the near future, AI might play an even more important role in marketing and user experience. As AI improves, human interactions with AI will become more natural and common. Artificial Intelligence will be able to produce and personalise content for customers by using analytics and machine learning to predict what type of content gains the best traction with consumers. Furthermore, in the future, it might be the case that customers will predominantly interact with AI rather than with people from the organisation. This presents the benefits of standardisation of interactions, and due to AI's learning and decision-making abilities, also the benefits of tailoring interactions to different customers. Think how consistent the customer experience in most cases would be if it was not dependent on whether the employee was having a good or a bad day. Artificial Intelligence can deliver 100% consistent brand experience and can do so with multiple customers at the same time, ultimately improving the customer experience for consumers and driving costs down for businesses. We are seeing the first steps towards this in the likes of Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa but the end goal reaches much further than that.
Artificial Intelligence might also become a central asset in several huge industries. One of the most obvious being self-driving cars, which we explored in our first 'On the Horizon' blog post. Another one is healthcare. For example, IBM Watson has been involved in cancer research and treatments.
Watson was able to read 25 million medical papers in one week and provide the doctors with a complete list of everything they needed to know.
Traditionally, in order to be on top of up-to-date treatments and results, doctors have to read and analyse hundreds of scientific papers. Given that each day, roughly 8,000 medical journals are published, the task of reading them all becomes impossible for any doctor. But not for AI. Watson was able to read 25 million medical papers in one week and provide the doctors with a complete list of everything they needed to know. As AI develops, the same methodology can be applied to other medical fields, providing doctors with latest information and enabling them to make better decisions.
Something similar is happening in the financial industry as well. For example, financial services firm JPMorgan Chase & Co introduced its COIN software, short for Contract Intelligence, that reads and interprets commercial-loan contracts. The result? In a year, the company saved 360,00 work hours by lawyers. Jobs that involve lots of routine tasks reading and analysing information are under direct threat of being made obsolete by Artificial Intelligence.
In the long term
In the long term no industry is safe. The strive for 'strong' Artificial Intelligence will mean that AI will be able to outperform humans in nearly all cognitive tasks. 'Thinking' and 'creative' jobs will be affected as well. Gathering and analysing data, as well as recommending and making decisions based on the results, will probably become AI territory.
Some disruptive results might be the pressing need for extensive job redesigns and putting plans in place to retrain the redundant workforce into new roles and reduce unemployment. Another implication for society might be the need to re-evaluate current understanding of jobs and work, as well as the place of humans in production and consumption. So what's left for people? Emotional Intelligence seems to be a popular answer since humans are able to understand, persuade, and empathise with other humans.
One thing is clear. Technological progress has and will continue to improve our lives in various ways, so fighting against is not only counterproductive but also pointless. Instead, we might be better off trying to understand and embrace it, and ensure that technology is for the people, rather than in spite of them. I'll leave you with a song in the style of the Beatles, the melody for which was composed by Sony's AI.
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(Blog first published 06/03/2017)