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Artificial Intelligence: for better or worse?

The rise of AI. @Ian-Metcalfe, Executive Director for Sales & Marketing at Brother International Europe, discusses the disruption and opportunities that artificial intelligence can bring.

Artificial Intelligence: for better or worse?

Be it the recent release of Blade Runner 2049 where the distinction between real and artificial life all but disappears, a vision of machines running the earth with man being the fuel source, as in The Matrix, or a self-aware computer programme that perceives all humans as a security threat to the survival of earth - the hype around Artificial intelligence is once again back in the news with Stephen Hawkins, Elon Musk and Bill Gates to name a few warning of the direction of travel that AI is taking.

Artificial Intelligence is everywhere; we have welcomed it into our homes with the likes of Amazon Echo, we have it operating our phones with Siri and computer devices with Cortana, and even in our cars.

However, whilst we are a long way from the threats that our Hollywood blockbusters portray, there are real world examples of how AI will adversely impact us. The accountancy firm PWC recently warned that more than 10 million workers may be at risk as a result of the introduction of automation.

We are starting to see a wave of redundancies in the Indian IT industry due to call centres, business process outsourcing centres because of the introduction of Bots (a software application that runs automated tasks), machine learning and algorithms that robotically execute processes. The business newspaper, Mint, reported that the top seven IT firms in India will lay off over 56,000 employees in 2017 alone.

Many are reporting that warehouse and production line jobs will disappear as the culmination of robotics and AI provides quicker, tireless replacement to their human equivalents.

AI is already being used in thousands of companies around the world today. While still not perfect, many companies are already actively working with voice activation integration to differentiate their products & services, providing easier customer interaction. Within the next four years, voice is projected to drive over $11.7 billion in sales. Accuracy is improving at lightning speed and advances in speech recognition, language processing and machine learning are converging.

China is now embarking on a huge effort to master artificial intelligence. Its government is planning to invest hundreds of billions of yuan into the technology and Chinese companies are nurturing and developing AI talent. They see this as their way to improve the productivity of their industries, as well as creating new business by leveraging the technology.

The following areas of AI can be considered as opportunities now:

With machine learning, computers are given the opportunity to learn without explicit programming. Deep learning platforms are a subfield of machine learning, inspired by the way the brain works and using artificial neural networks to change or “learn” based on output and input. It works best with large data volumes recognising patterns and classification that a normal human mind would find difficult to spot. Finance companies are already implementing this as a way to help spot fraudulent transactions.

Decision management maximises the value of big data by improving the decision-making process. This is achieved through using all the information available to make the best possible choices, increasing agility, consistency and precision. Automation helps when high volume decision-making is required, and enables decisions to become more information-driven, efficient and consistent.

Natural language processing is concerned with interactions between human languages and computers.  Programmes can interact with human speech and respond to users’ questions. Virtual agents thus allow customers to receive help 24/7. Already used extensively in service and support, it has the potential to improve a company’s internal processes.

Natural language generation software can be used to turn all sorts of data into human readable text. Automating business intelligence reports, product descriptions, financial reports and meeting memos is now possible.

Without doubt, this technology is constantly developing and improving. True value can now be seen in AI, and now is the time for companies to focus on where it can solve real business problems to help achieve business goals.