via Forbes: There are lots of technologies that attract our attention – and money – these days. We’re obsessed with blockchain, cryptocurrency, IOT, big data analytics, cybersecurity3-D printing and drones. We’re excited about virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality. We love talking about driverless cars, ships and planes. We can’t wait for 5G and Wi-Fi domes that solve all of our network access problems; and while we’re getting a little worried about social media and privacy, we’re still addicted to our ever-more-powerful smartphones. We buy everything online. We’re into wearables. But there’s one technology that we all need to embrace: artificial intelligence (AI). While there are other families in the disruptive digital technology world, this one is special and one you cannot afford to treat as just another emerging technology. AI powers, amplifies and therefore supersedes them all.
Why So Special?
First, AI is special because it’s more than one technology. In fact, it’s a family of technologies. Secondly, AI is special because its application potential is so wide. Next, AI is special because it learns and sometimes even self-replicates. AI’s also special because it satisfies ROI models of all shapes and sizes. Finally, AI is everywhere: which companies – and countries – are not investing in AI? There’s a bona fide arms race underway among the players (which shows no signs of slowing anytime soon).
What is AI?
AI includes at least machine learning, deep learning, image recognition, robotic process automation, natural language processing, text mining, vision systems, speech systems, neural networks and pattern recognition, among other methods, tools and techniques that according to the father of AI, John McCarthy, represent “the science and engineering of making intelligent machines, especially intelligent computer programs.”
What Can AI Do?
There is very little AI cannot do. The range of applications is staggering, including all of the vertical industries and every business process and model that supports them. AI will profoundly impact healthcare, transportation, accounting, finance, manufacturing, customer service, aviation, education, sales, marketing, law, entertainment, media, security, negotiation, war and peace. No industry or process is safe from the impact that AI – across all of its components – will have in the short-run and especially over the next seven to ten years. Keep in mind also that AI will integrate across business and technology architectures, databases and applications.
What Will AI Change?
Everything. The timing – as always with the adoption of emerging technologies – is debatable. But the changes will not all be good. AI empowers good and evil. Note the ease with which fake news can be created and disseminated by intelligent “news” creators, and how easy it is for smart bots to service personal and professional confirmation biases intended to manipulate thinking and behavior. At the same time, good bots will make much of our personal and professional lives more efficient and productive, freeing us to pursue other activities. Will AI eliminate jobs? Of course, and this time the elimination of jobs will include so-called knowledge workers as well as the traditional manufacturing jobs we associate with automation and robotics which will increasingly behave in unsupervised contexts. Much of this capability will arrive simultaneously across whole industries, such as the automotive industry which will utilize robotic AI to manufacture driverless cars and then manage their movement across cities and towns across the world. Similarly, healthcare will be impacted by lifestyles, monitoring, diagnosis and treatment. No, AI will not kill us, but it will augment and replace many of us in the workplace. Again, it’s a question of when, not if, but the impact will be sweeping and will likely happen much faster than many analysts predict. Regardless of how bullish or bearish you are about displacement, it’s safe to say that tens of millions of jobs – and knowledge-based careers– will be impacted — and in many cases eliminated — in the next five-to-seven years.
Who isn’t? Investments in all things intelligent are unprecedented. All of the major technology companies are heavily invested in the technology, but the most important investment portfolio belongs to whole countries which have declared AI as a strategic national objective. China, for example, has defined AI as one of its core industries.
What to Do About AI?
If your company is not already investing in AI, it’s way past time. Step one is the modeling of your current and aspirational processes informed generously by the potential of AI and predictions about the evolution of your industry. Elaborate process models should be developed, tested, simulated and inventoried to inform your AI pilot agenda. The simplest way to build this agenda is to identify the processes most amenable to AI and simulate the impact intelligent systems might have on the costs and benefits of the target processes. The most robust simulations should rank-order the processes that should be piloted with new technologies. Corporate partnerships should also be aggressively pursued, especially since AI is so broad. Companies need enabling partners that, for example, provide AI development and application platforms (which will come from their cloud providers in most cases). University partnerships are also valuable. Companies should befriend AI start-ups. Many AI technology companies will scan the start-up terrain for acquisition targets. Just as many established companies will scan the same environment for the same reason.
National governments should strategically commit to AI. This means that the national research laboratories – like the National Science Foundation in the US – should receive additional, directed funds to pursue a broad program of research and development that assures a global presence in the development and application of AI, which should be declared a 21st century moonshot.
Do you have the right AI talent in your company? If you administered an AI IQ test back at the ranch, how well would the team do? If your company is like most, you will need to invest in AI education and training starting with executive education about the strategic role of AI in your industry.
Finally, brutal process assessments are necessary to optimize AI. No process should be exempt from what AI might offer. But make no mistake, much of this is political. There will be Luddites who challenge the applicability and power of AI. But AI is different from the other “stand-alone” emerging technologies. AI can disrupt your business in ways you need to identify – before you’re disrupted. So do you need an AI “czar”? You absolutely do.