Can Your Company Afford to Ignore AI?

The Expanding World of AI

Artificial Intelligence has greatly expanded in the last decade, due to the continual growth of big data, as well as improvements in cloud processing power, combined with the desire for businesses to continue optimizing their processes and maximizing profits. Loosely speaking, AI is a conglomeration of multiple technologies intended to learn and act with human-like intelligence. Any technology with such a broad scope promises to lend itself to just about any industry – whether it’s improving customer experiences or increasing the reliability of a supply chain.

Currently the field of AI is split into two pieces – “Narrow AI” and “General AI”. The first, Narrow AI, is often referred to as weak AI, in that it is mainly concerned with machine learning algorithms designed to improve the performance of a single system or process. Despite being labeled “weak,” this type of AI is becoming increasingly common and can be, when used correctly, incredibly powerful. Most social media applications rely on this type of narrow AI to drive user engagement.

General AI, also termed “strong AI”, is probably what comes to mind when the layman hears the term “Artificial Intelligence.” Androids seen in science fiction, such as Data from Star Trek Next Generation, would require this type of AI. This would be considered the Holy Grail of Artificial Intelligence for most developers – but unfortunately (or thankfully, if Elon Musk is correct) this type of artificial intelligence is still a long way off. It would require a discrete system that can think logically, strategically, and creatively, while understanding abstract concepts such as emotions and feelings. Some of the work done by OpenAI seems promising, but is still a long way from passing a genuine Turing test.

How Can AI Help Your Business?

As mentioned above, Artificial Intelligence has helped launch the popularity of social media platforms into the stratosphere. Machine learning algorithms track user engagement (that is to say – what you are looking at, and for how long, and who your favorite accounts are, and what times you log on, etc.). By learning a user’s patterns and preferences, these algorithms automatically tailor a user’s experience to exactly what attracts them the most. Feeds, which were once a chronological timeline of posts made by accounts you chose to follow, have now been replaced by an algorithmic presentation of the things which are most likely to attract your gaze – and get you clicking.

But what if your business has nothing to do with social media? How can machine learning integrate with other industries? The answer to this is automation. The key strength of artificial intelligence is its ability to digest massive amounts of information and find previously unseen correlations in the data. And because machine learning can accomplish this task several orders of magnitude more quickly than humans, and with higher accuracy, this means that any industry or business which makes use of metrics or key performance indicators of any kind can be optimized by AI. The medical industry, for example, is seeing new forms of AI which help diagnose patients with startling accuracy.

Most businesses will benefit from the end-to-end efficiency that AI can provide. Improved analytics can bolster forecasting, identify unforeseen roadblocks, and reduce costs associated with downtime. These complex processes can be completely automated. Furthermore, AI can work alongside human intelligence to help employees make more informed decisions and, because of its raw processing capabilities, AI can assist in revealing new market opportunities, allowing businesses to be the first to fill their customer’s needs.

Artificial intelligence is already capable of taking over many of the mundane administrative tasks that eat countless hours of employee time. These employees would then be free to focus on more important high-level tasks. AI can also improve customer service with things like in-depth customer insights, and chatbots to quickly route customers to the correct help desk.

The Future of AI

Aside from the inexorable push towards General AI, which many speculate will bring us to a technological singularity, there are still many untapped avenues in which Artificial Intelligence may grow. C-suite executives agree with this sentiment, with 84% stating that they will need to integrate AI into their current businesses in order to remain competitive.

As the field of robotics continues to advance, AI will almost certainly transform the workforce. There is much speculation that within the next ten years, AI will take over the trucking industry. With self driving-trucks and logistics algorithms, the human element may be removed almost entirely. Manufacturing, and even low-level service jobs (Starbucks baristas and fast-food workers, for example) are also on the table as being areas that AI can expand into, and subsequently take over.

With each new exciting innovation in the realm of AI, it becomes easier to imagine a future in which self-driving cars bring us wherever we want to go, with virtual personal assistants to cater to, and predict, our every whim, as well as drones to deliver our favorite products within a few hours of ordering – as we pass seamlessly between virtual and physical environments, perfectly curated by smart-home devices, all networked together.