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article imageHow artificial intelligence will disrupt business: Q&A Special

By Tim Sandle     Aug 5, 2018 in Technology
Artificial intelligence is coming of age, moving in from the sci-fi concepts of the 1990s to something of advantage to business and which has the potential to be of societal good. A new book captures these themes.
When IBM’s Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov at chess in 1997, it was a huge breakthrough for AI methods and capabilities. However, the AI of the ‘90s lacked the technology and practicality to provide long-term value to an organization’s end users. The AI of today has the power to change the way our world operates, however for this to be realized many organizations have to learn what AI is and how to use it, and wider society needs to allay any fears and embrace it.
These themes are discussed in a new book titled “Embracing the Power of AI”. The book contains chapters written by five AI experts, who take a detailed look at the state of AI today, what businesses need to do to implement it, and how this will impact on society.
To consider these themes Digital Journal spoke with one of the authors, J.J. Lopez Murphy, who is the Technical Director and Data Science Practice Lead at Globant.
Digital Journal: Which economic sectors are most likely to be affected by AI?
J.J. Lopez Murphy: AI has the opportunity to disrupt all industries, but some have adopted it quicker than others. For instance, manufacturers are using AI to work alongside humans to complete routine tasks and processes. This can free up employees’ time and allow them to focus on more high-value tasks, saving time and money. The service industry is also using AI to automate processes, provide recommendations and use voice-controlled technology. For example, insurance providers have used chatbots as a way to provide 24/7 customer service or complete routine tasks like renewing policies.
While some sectors might be more hesitant to use AI, companies shouldn’t think they can’t implement AI just because they might be the first of their kind to do so. AI can provide a variety of benefits across many layers. As I write in the book:
“With such a promise of economic benefit with reduced amounts of risks, many are investing heavily in the advancements of AI and adopting AI solutions. And the bet is paying off, as many companies are using artificial intelligence not as merely a novelty to show off, but to successfully drive core processes for them.” (Embracing the Power of AI, p. 65).
All sectors of the economy can benefit as long as the drive behind the project is to develop a solution that aligns with the end-user’s needs and will be effective as a holistic solution.
DJ: How should society be adapting in preparation for the increased use of AI?
Lopez Murphy: When it comes to the increased use of AI, the most important thing society should be doing is building a culture that embraces AI. To create a world where society can evolve with AI, it will be about educating the public on AI’s capabilities and why they shouldn’t fear it. Right now, I think there’s a larger conversation about how far we should let AI impact our lives or society as a whole. Instead, we should be focusing on how we can evolve with the technology, use it to add value, and enable people to pursue passions and interests. The more we can accept this and embrace it, the more benefits we can receive from the technology itself.
This is especially true with the implementation of AI within business. If people aren’t willing to experiment with AI and learn from the experience, then it will be difficult for AI to continue to grow. However, I think many businesses are realizing this and implementing AI projects with care, ensuring that AI is being used to achieve long term goals so that it’s a sustainable investment.
Learning how to learn, to empathize, to define a sense of meaning will be the ultimate skills. That should set the horizon.
DJ: What would you say to those who are fearful of AI?
Lopez Murphy: I think the reason people are fearful of AI is a lack of understanding, and as AI continues to improve and benefit many people’s daily lives, the less scary it will seem. When previous technologies like the internet were introduced, many of its capabilities were unknown and feared. But as people began to understand the internet’s potential and used it, the less fearful they were about its risks. The same is true about AI, which is why it’s important to demystify the technology. Take another extract from the book:
The power of AI has also led to fear and concern over their potential impact on our lives. Distinguishing between fact and fiction is a necessary part of the journey, and as AI becomes more ingrained in all aspects of our businesses and individual lives, the dialogue will become increasingly important. (Embracing the Power of AI, p. 129)
Another reason people are fearful is that they feel AI will replace workers. But AI technology isn’t doing that - it’s supporting the way humans work, giving them more time to pursue other tasks and interests.
DJ: How should businesses respond as customers become more knowledgeable about AI?
Lopez Murphy: Customers are increasingly embracing new technology and becoming more connected. We’re no longer in the age where connecting on one device or channel is enough. Many customers are connected through their smartphones, computers, tablets and even voice-controlled devices. On top of that, people are now familiar with AI and are aware, at the very least, that it is being used. In response to this, businesses should continue to invest in these technologies as they see is most beneficial. However, businesses shouldn’t just adopt AI because it’s being hyped up and considered “trendy”, but because it will provide long term value to the business and customer.
Businesses can also show customers that the project doesn’t have to be an overhaul of the entire system, they can start small. A smaller project would help the organization learn how to best use AI and start driving results more immediately. Everyone can use AI when their culture is ready to embrace the tech and see the knowledge is there to achieve long-term change.
DJ: Will AI lead to job losses or more of a change to the type of work undertaken?
Lopez Murphy: The true benefit of AI technology is to help employees and free up time spent on mundane tasks, allowing employees to focus on projects that they’re passionate about and add value in more strategic ways. While there’s a lot of talk of how AI is going to take over the workforce, it’s important to understand that AI is here to augment intelligence and allow workers to focus their efforts toward other tasks.
As is argued in the book:
Despite all the hype surrounding artificial intelligence, worthwhile AI projects to date embody simple kinds of tasks that involve going from input A to output B. Successful projects will enhance the experience of accessing and processing information, as well as making decisions, and fundamental to performance is abundant, high-quality, labeled data. Underlying successful projects is how AI helps make any kind of data translatable to any other, which ultimately helps businesses realize the types of initiatives they can tackle and determine the expertise they need for the team from the fields of data science, architecture, and user experience. (Embracing the Power of AI, p. 69)
A successful AI project is not meant to create job losses but help solve business problems and provide decision makers with items like advanced insights from massive data sets and streamline monotonous tasks to help augment the user experience.
DJ: What strategies should companies be considering for implementing AI?
Lopez Murphy: There are many strategies companies should consider when implementing an AI project. The main goals for an AI product should be to aid people in accessing and processing information, and/or to support advanced decision-making. Going into a project with these goals will help when laying out a strategy of how to proceed. A company should look beyond the AI/machine learning component itself and educate employees to build a culture that embraces AI.
Assembling an agile team that routinely communicates and loops back with feedback throughout the process will ensure that AI is accomplishing the goal. The process is far from linear, so the strategy behind AI might change as the technology develops. But as long as the team works together and continuously checks and tests the data with their business goals and customer needs, the project can be successful.
In a follow-up interview, Lopez Murphy discusses with Digital Journal how much further artificial intelligence can develop and what the imputations are for society and business. See: "AI has the power to change the way our world operates: Q&A."
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