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Trend #48: Artificial Intelligence (AI)

The Golden Age of Artificial Intelligence: Are We There?

In our June Action Brief. we explored how technology is altering business operations. An aspect of that was Artificial Intelligence (AI). Now, let’s take a closer look at artificial intelligence to examine its potential for further revolutionizing business operations.

Business Implications

A wide availability of graphics processing units (GPUs), almost infinite storage, and the Big Data movement have all helped AI development flourish over the past three years. A recent survey indicates that 39% of workers are using some aspect of AI at work, 87% say their job will change by 2020 because of AI, and 76% indicate that “some” or “half” of their job could be completed by AI or other technology right now. It is predicted that AI bots will power 85% of customer service interactions by 2020. AI startups received more than $5 billion in venture-capital funding in 2016, according to one report. Revenues from cognitive systems and AI are projected to reach $47 billion by 2020. The advent of quantum computing will further fuel AI embeddedness in the workplace.

Consider what is happening across the business spectrum:

  • Human resource professionals are using AI to gather and analyze online information about potential hires. AI also helps interviewers devise interview questions based on specific jobs or profiles.
  • Retailers are providing personalized shopping experiences for customers based on analysis of past customer purchases, location, weather, and other insights gained through AI. Suggestions are pushed towards the customer while they are shopping rather than at check-out.
  • Marketers are utilizing capabilities of some AI platforms to be able to predict the best times to engage particular buyers based on past behaviors and actions. AI is able to find patterns among individual and groups of customers and retailers can make use of this information in real time.
  • Some AI is beginning to measure human emotion which can help companies strengthen customer loyalty to their brand.
  • Brick and mortar stores are using facial recognition technology to help deter shoplifters. Some stores scan customer’s faces before doors will unlock for entry at night. Some systems send a text message to staff when a known shoplifter enters the premises.
  • Analytics are being used to better predict business activity and smooth out results. The hope is to help make financial outcomes more consistent over time.
  • Managers and others and are using AI to complete lower-level management tasks, maximize workflows, and automate various business processes which frees up their time to focus on more productive tasks, which can boost the top and bottom lines for businesses.
  • Metadata and analytics are being used to predict logistical issues before they happen including kinks in supply chains and traffic accidents.
  • Human swarming (or blended intelligence) platforms allow groups of users to login from any location and think together to solve problems and make predictions, decisions, and generate ideas.

Coincidentally, human swarming is one of the methods recognized for potentially stemming AI singularity (dominance). The concern is that some AI machines learn and advance on their own, and could possibly set in motion actions with negative and unforeseen consequences to humankind. There has even been talk of a “big red button” to be used as a kill switch if AI runs amok. The swarming method is thought to be one way of keeping humans in the loop with AI so it can be used to help with human decision-making, not replace it. Read this article to find out more: Teaching A.I. Systems to Behave Themselves.

Unsavory uses of AI, however, are a current reality. Natural-speech technology is advancing. Some companies are using chatbots to fool consumers into accepting goods and services unknowingly over the phone. This is commonly known as the “can you hear me?” scam. When consumers answer “yes” to a chatbot asking that question, they are noted as having subscribed to whatever service the company is selling. The chatbots are so lifelike that they can even laugh, say “uh-huh” appropriately, and adjust their vocal pitch contextually.

AI can also be used to help cyber-hackers root out vulnerabilities in technology with greater ease. More data collected via AI means the potential for more serious data breaches. We are seeing governments wage digital wars for which there is no kill switch. Fraud, extortion, and other cyber-crimes will become more sophisticated in the future. New resources and possibly a new industry will be required to counteract these risks.

Technology costs still provide many barriers to AI use in business. But as it becomes more accessible, how can businesses balance the rewards, while still being mindful of the concerns around it?

  • Carefully Evaluate AI applications that can immediately affect revenue and cost
  • Look for ways to implement AI to help produce more goods with the same number of people.
  • Evaluate how AI can be used to improve computer-to-computer functions before using to replace human functions.
  • Understanding the risks that accompany the use of AI is paramount. Make sure cyber-security measures are evaluated and strengthened as AI is adopted by your business.

Classroom Implications

Students will be familiar with AI that uses facial recognition through their use of social media. Ask them to identify other areas where AI is at play in their lives.

Get students thinking about what AI really means by posing some of the questions found in this article:

Educators may find this article helpful in thinking about AI as part of your students’ futures: The article notes that 65% of students will hold jobs that don’t yet exist. Ask students how they think their career choices might be affected by AI.

Students can also begin thinking about AI implementation strategies by studying how businesses have already implemented it. Ask them to speak with a mentor or business person in their community to hear about their experiences with AI.

AI is now performing the teaching-assistant role at some colleges. Ask students what they think about this. What are the advantages and disadvantages? Students will probably be interested in how educators feel about this development as well.