AI for the Real World
Having a job delivers a sense of purpose, financial well-being and provides us with an activity full of social interaction. But with recent advances in AI becoming more tangible to society, coupled with predictions of doom and gloom in the media, there is growing angst that large swathes of jobs could suddenly be taken from us by the machines. Luckily, according to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, there is no need to panic.
Computers, as they became more mainstream, were predicted to replace humans and make the office paperless. But, today, most offices still seem to have plenty of both. According to a report by Deloitte from 2017, a similar effect will be seen, with AI complementing humans in many situations, rather than replacing them. Three business areas were identified as areas where AI can support business needs: automating business processes, gaining insight through data analysis, and engaging with customers and employees.
Automating Business Processes
Process automation has been going on for years, with robotic process automation (RPA) tools being used to take over dull tasks, such as data inputting and comparison of documents. Up until now, these tools have been programmed to perform specific tasks and do not learn over time. AI is now starting to be added, allowing these established tools to leverage the experience they garner over time. Organizations such as NASA have successfully integrated RPAs in areas such as accounting and human resources. In most cases, any jobs lost as a result had already been outsourced, since an outsourced task is probably of low business value and ripe for automation.
Insight Through Data Analysis
Computers are a natural talent when it comes to data analysis, capable of handling enormous quantities of data that could never have been handled by humans. Adding in AI provides the ability to predict relationships between disparate documents, such as database entries and invoices, that can have different formats, uses and content. This sort of cognitive insight has been used by GE to save $80 million by highlighting redundancies and renegotiating contracts that had previously been spread across multiple business units.
Engaging with Customers and Employees
Intelligent agents that can handle natural language inputs are another area where AI is making its impact felt. Consumers commonly interact with these on most online customer service interfaces, normally in the form of a ‘chatbot’. Following the 80:20 rule in their implementation, such chatbots are capable of answering the majority of simple natural language questions input. Questions that are more complex are then forwarded to human operators. Of the companies studied, many had chosen to trial such technology on their own employees, rather than their customers, first. By handing off ‘internal customer service’ activities, such as IT support questions, organizations are able to develop their understanding for the technology, its limitations, and the infrastructure needed to make it happen.
The survey from Deloitte also highlights that businesses found it hard to integrate cognitive AI projects. Most business software systems, where the data relevant to their business is stored, have proprietary interfaces that were never designed to work in conjunction with AI. The result is that every AI solution must be customized to work successfully with each business system. They also see AI as a tool to improve product or service performance, whereas headcount reduction is at the bottom of the list of factors driving interest. So, it seems that both AI and jobs are here to stay. But the advice is, start small, develop internal understanding for the technology, and make sure that issues of scalability are considered at each stage of the project development if you want to make a success from AI in your business.