There is a pervasive underlying fear from generations raised on dystopian science fiction that artificial intelligence and robotics will be the undoing of humankind. Eventually, the conventional thinking goes even the likes of Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking are on board here artificial intelligence will become smarter than the organic variety and terrible things will happen as machines take over the planet.
In reality, however, its much more likely AI isnt going to destroy us or even take ourjobs. In fact, its very likely going to help usdo ourjobs better. Think about that for a moment. The idea that AI could help us work smarter is not nearly as sexy as the notion of robot overlords taking over Earth but it is a much more realistic view of artificial intelligence technology in 2016. Its worth noting, thats as true for the line worker at a factory as it is for a salesperson or knowledge worker.
While it may seem like every software engineer in Silicon Valley is trying to create the perfect algorithm to replace human workers, many are simply trying to find ways to make you a better employeeby combining the power of the computer with your creative working brains.
Paul Daugherty, CTO at Accenture, says in his companys viewpoint, artificial intelligence will be about enhancing humans, not replacing them and driving tremendous economic growth in the process. While SciFi-fear mongering might make good headlines, its not what his company is focused on when it comes to artificial intelligence.
Our goal with AI is not to make super humans, its to make humans super. While that might be a clever marketing turn of phrase, he insists the company is focusing on solving real business problems with AI finding ways to simplify the complex.
The idea that AI could help us work smarter is not nearly as sexy as the notion of robot overlords taking over Earth but it is a much more realistic view of artificial intelligence technology in 2016.
To that end, Accenture is looking at three concrete approaches to artificial intelligence: It wants to transform business processes by making them more intelligent, provide a more effective way for humans to interact with machines to allow us to take maximum advantage of the machinesdata processing capabilities (possibly using smart glasses as an interface), and finally, it wants to help surface unstructured data, a problem business has been working on for decades.
Lest you think this is all about improving the lives of knowledge workers, Daughertysays that AI willreach down to the factory floor. Hetells of a manufacturing client his company has beenworking with who combined AI with an augmented reality headset to teach low-skilled workers new jobs. The workers are fed very specific instructions through the headset and they learn much more quickly this way. They found employeesloved this approach, as did employers because they could distribute workers across a variety of tasks without a lot of costly training.
Building a better salesperson
When one looks at AI, one of the places we are startingto see it emerge in a big way this year, has been in sales tools from Salesforce, Oracle, SugarCRM, Base and others. The thinking is that sales teams cant possibly keep track of all the factors out there that could be having impact on an individual sale and thats where the machine can help.
Good sales people have an innate talent forcommunicating with their customers and knowing how to push and prod them to the final sale. What they often lack, no matter how good they are, is an understanding all of the underlying issues that could have a negative impact on a possible sale, says Rich Green, chief product officer at SugarCRM.
Thats where AI can come in providing informationabout how the current deal relates to other deals, whats happening in the news that could have an impact on a deal, what the tone suggests in the latest email exchanges, and so forth. A machine and good CRM software can process all of this external information, provide insight to the sales team, and let humans worry about the social interactions that are needed to close the sale.
Its certainly a point Salesforce was pushing earlier this year when it launched Einstein, its artificial intelligence platform and its something you can expect to see inall kinds of software in the coming years.
AI is here to stay
Regardless of how you feel about it, AI is going to be built into most software moving forward. Its just the natural course of software evolution. If you can build smarter software, why wouldnt you? Daugherty believes that, because of this, we will see a much more rapid adoption curve for AI than we did with cloud computing.
Thats partly because, with the cloud, a company had to make a deliberate decision to switch from on-prem to an entirely new model, and it has taken some time for that idea to catch on. AI will simply be part of the fabric of much of the software being built from this point on. Its also a technology that has been in development for years, waiting for the right moment. We now have the compute power and data to make it work in real business scenarios.
As Amit Zavery, senior VP forthe Oracle cloud platform told me, its not as though in the future, you can have the software with AI or you can save a few bucks and get the software without it. Its simply going to be built in. When Zavery talks to customers, they ultimately dont care about the underlying technology. They want some sort of business value and if its AI delivering it, so much the better.
That said, all of the major vendors Google, Microsoft, AWS, Oracle, IBM or any platform vendor are also exposing artificial intelligence programming tools in the form of APIs, putting this kind of technology within reach of every company.We dont know how long it will take for organizations to start building more intelligent applications internally, but it would seem if they build theAPIs, the developerswill come.
While things oftentend to move more slowly in technology than many of us think, AIis a trend that should progressmuch morerapidly as the software vendors push itdeeper and deeper into the software they develop. As this happens, its important to keep in mind, the goals of this approach are designed to help you work more efficiently and intelligently not to remove you from the equation.