Bursting the artificial intelligence hype

PwC’s report on the impact of automation on jobs suggests that almost a third of UK jobs are at risk of being replaced by robots following advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and automation.

The report warns that without careful consideration certain low-skilled jobs will be drastically exposed over the next 15 years. But what if people step back from the doom-and-gloom for a second? Businesses can’t ignore the significant benefits that come from bringing AI into the workplace forever. First step, though – burst the hype that surrounds AI.

It wasn’t too long ago that AI largely belonged in the genre of science fiction. Society is now starting to think more seriously about the consequences of AI and automation for the workplace and people’s wider lives.

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Consumer AI applications like Alexa or Siri make regular headlines, making the technology seem a business imperative that’s sure to transform work forever. In all honesty, much of this AI ‘bubble’ in which businesses find themselves today is simply over-hyped and, in many cases, completely impractical when talking about adding tangible business value. Take new deep learning solutions, for example. Though they may signal a new era of technical capability, the truth is that currently they’re only touching the edge cases of business value.

Computers have been automating simple tasks for decades. Alan Turing toiled away at Bletchley Park in the 1940s, making computers ‘artificially intelligent’. There’s a tendency to think of AI as something altogether new. As a consequence, the more proven AI use cases that have been in operation for many years are now, by comparison, criminally underappreciated and under-hyped.

The state of AI technology today has been proven to deliver meaningful business value for leading organisations around the world. Previously, this was talked about as decision management software that combines data-driven analytics and human-configured rules to identify what is the next best available action. Machine learning – check. This is AI too. For quite a while now, decision management has played an important part in helping blue-chip organisations of all descriptions to forge stronger customer relationships and to manage their resources more effectively, improving operational efficiency and increasing profitability.

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This is can be described as ‘Pragmatic AI’, according to Forrester. Though it may not ‘wow’ the public the way a talking butler or even deep learning technology might, thinking about Pragmatic AI is a good way of cutting through the AI hype and measuring how the technology can have a palpable and meaningful impact for businesses.

It’s easy to get distracted by the latest shiny new tech, but organisations have to assess what’s the right technology for them to reach their business objectives. Those objectives can take different forms. One company could be using Pragmatic AI to retain existing customers, while another might use it to automate specific repetitive processes and maximise resources. In a way, the technology itself is irrelevant – it’s just a tool to get you to your business outcome. If the tool isn’t doing that, it’s largely a useless investment.

Don’t get the wrong idea, though. Some of the ‘cutting-edge’ technology being hyped in the media today could still have a real say for businesses striving to adapt and meet new goals in the future. As companies think about different ways of interacting with customers, voice and language recognition can provide a lot of the answers.

Sophisticated chat bots, for instance, can support new channels and maintain conversations across a number of different platforms naturally and with a conversational touch. It has the potential to really elevate customer experience.

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Commercial organisations need AI to do the hard work of growing revenue and driving down costs. It’s not easy to transform interactions with customers, improve loyalty by adding value, and sell more products and services at the same time.

Businesses can respond to changing circumstances in the needs of consumers and manage resources intelligently. When an unexpected cold snap suddenly affects a particular area, for instance, the demand for snow chains goes up: that’s where an intelligent AI process can make sure the right action is taken by prioritising and diverting resources to where they’re needed.

Employees of a company are slowed down by schedules overloaded with low-value work. Responding to this, along with other concerns, businesses have been rapidly turning to AI and robotic automation software to reduce costs and increase efficiencies by automating high volume and repetitive tasks that get in the way of delivering the best possible customer experience.

Customer-facing employees are freed up so they can focus on adding value where it really counts. Businesses will increasingly recognise and address the fact that every customer interaction is precious and valuable. And the AI gives added intelligence and insight that employees otherwise wouldn’t have.

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AI is more likely to augment human jobs than to replace them. The relationship between ‘work’ and ‘value’ is starting to change too. Marketers will have to better understand how to use AI and data to target their offers; business leaders and managers will need to know how to use software robotics and automation to drive effectiveness.

As with any technology, of course, AI is going to affect the assumptions people have for different careers. But the repetitive nature of many jobs can be tackled head-on with the right AI technology.

Businesses would do well to overcome the fact that AI has been both over-hyped and under-appreciated, by not buying into all of the AI hype out there today, and by appreciating the tried and tested aspects of this technology that have worked for so many.


Sourced by Don Schuerman, chief technology officer, Pegasystems


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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...