About a year ago, at an Artificial Intelligence (AI) Conference in Cambridge in the U.K., Dr. Stephen Hawking noted that, “Success in creating AI could be the biggest event in the history of our civilization … either the best or the worst thing, ever to happen to humanity. We do not yet know which.”
The question remains unanswered, even as the AI sector continues to boom. Most of the major advances in AI that we are experiencing originated from research centers and startups—many based in the U.K. It is interesting to note that major U.S. technology leaders like Microsoft, Google and Twitter have entered this arena by acquiring some of the U.K.’s brightest AI stars.
Simply stated, AI is changing many of the ways businesses engage with their customers—whether with “chatbots” providing customer service, or by automated virtual assistants, or using technology to power self-driving automobiles. The advances in this sector are transforming operations at businesses of all sizes. This burgeoning industry has made major strides in helping businesses—especially small businesses—operate more effectively with social media. It used to be that analyzing social dialogue to identify and prioritize consumer targets was a tedious and lengthy process. With an AI software interface, the job takes minutes rather than days.
The blossoming of the AI sector has produced tools that are both super-efficient and inexpensive, offering major benefits to many small businesses. Now, routine customer service, sales and human resource tasks can be automated. As AI takes off, we can expect to see it making major inroads into areas of specific expertise, such as law and medical diagnostics. Expect to see virtual lawyers offer cheaper solutions to traditional legal practitioners. These bots can search law files and resolve complex immigration or employment law questions in minutes—research tasks that would have taken a paralegal many billable hours. Likewise, medical diagnostic AI tools can make assessments faster and often with a greater degree of accuracy than medical professionals.
Cybersecurity is another area where expectations run high for AI applications. In the never-ending battle to counter and defeat complex computer hacking schemes, machine learning is expected to continue to play an important role in combating increasingly sophisticated plots and uncovering potential vulnerabilities before cybercrooks strike.
There are many issues—both ethical and legislative—that will need to be resolved as AI continues to grow and expand throughout the global business world. Some industry observers worry that AI will make many occupations in IT obsolete; others believe that AI will create new jobs by freeing human beings from routine tasks to allow them to focus on the “higher value” cognitive skills that currently elude chatbots and virtual assistants. Some find the proliferation of profiling AI tools—programs that are used to prioritize sales prospects or job candidates based on their LinkedIn profiles—unsettling. Champions of such assessment tools believe they merely speed up the interactions that take place between people, and do so with much less error and bias.
Whether we like it or not, AI is here to stay and is likely to be a game-changer in the way we do business in the near future.