Artificial intelligence (AI) is not always easy to understand. It has a long and complex history that dates to the 1950s. Up until recently, the development of AI has been relatively slow and commonly confused with automation. The two are often referred to in the same sentence, but have distinctly different uses.
Automation is the process of making software (or indeed, hardware) automate routine tasks, following a prescribed set of instructions. By contrast, AI focuses on developing intelligent machines that can display human behaviours and thought processes.
An artificially intelligent machine grows in intelligence and adapts its actions as it receives information. Transformative business solutions, powered by AI, are becoming increasingly commonplace. In fact, Forrester predicts that overall investment in AI will increase by 300% this year.
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Why? Because AI has the power to help companies make better, more informed decisions. It can liberate lucrative information from volumes of data to close the gap between insight and action.
Given its complexity, AI is not always viewed in a positive light. People have a variety of concerns about it: some think they won’t be able to take full advantage of AI because they believe it to be inapplicable to their current business model, while others lament the possibility of losing their jobs to machines.
However, these worries don’t accurately reflect reality. Perhaps the best way to fully comprehend the potential of AI is to dispel the following three common misconceptions.
AI is still far in the future
Some people believe that AI is a distant phenomenon characterised almost exclusively by highly sophisticated robots. In truth, the widespread application of AI in both our business and personal lives is not that far away at all.
This is because AI doesn’t need a robot body to be effective. It can also be harnessed in the form of software applications, bots, and intelligent personal assistants – to name but a few examples. What’s more, when robots do become widely available, it’s likely that general consumers and manufacturers will use them more than white-collar businesses.
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The modern corporate office already puts automation – which is something of a baseline for artificial intelligence – to good use. This indicates that the application of AI in the workplace is just around the corner.
However, AI goes a step further than simple automation by leveraging and analysing data, and generating useful insights to help professionals make smarter decisions.
Of course, there are many different disciplines within the broad field of AI, and many of them overlap and intersect with each other. In addition to robotics, AI includes machine learning that provides computers with the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed. It also includes mining and analysing big data for lucrative business insights that can be turned into action and results, as well as image processing, which is used to analyse digitised pictures to aid a variety of jobs such as civil engineering and border control.
Natural language processing (NLP), or the ability of a computer program to understand human speech as it is spoken, is an area of AI that is advancing particularly quickly. Google recently announced that its speech recognition technology can now recognise 19 out of every 20 words spoken.
In other words, it’s nearly perfect. What’s more, Gartner has estimated that by 2020, 30% of all internet searches will be done without a screen interface. Instead, users will rely on NLP to make their search requests.
AI isn’t going to have a big impact on work
Many people are already using artificial intelligence without even realising it. Anyone who uses SIRI, Amazon Alexa, or Google Home is working with an intelligent personal assistant with speech recognition capabilities.
Many of the technologies we take for granted are already being enhanced – or soon will be – by artificial intelligence. Most leading email providers, for example, are using machine learning algorithms to improve the efficiency of their spam filters.
Smaller companies and individuals typically assume that only data scientists and global brands with impressive budgets, like Google and Facebook, can harness AI. Smaller businesses are seemingly less responsive and slower to adopt AI due to a lack of awareness, employee reluctance, the absence of workable digital transformation plan, or all the above.
However, businesses of all sizes stand to gain from AI. A Narrative Science survey showed that AI is already improving workplace efficiency and productivity in a number of ways. The results indicate that almost half (48.5%) of companies are already using AI to make better data-driven business decisions, 13.6% are using it to automate their communications, and 6.1% are using it to eliminate time-consuming administrative tasks.
Implementing AI is not an expensive disruption by any means. Contrary to popular belief, it won’t require businesses to redesign their entire IT infrastructure. With a good strategy in place that is supported at all levels of the organisation, incremental changes can be made over time that will benefit the entire business. Companies can’t be half-hearted though. They either must embrace new technology fully or not at all. Any ambivalence will only cause problems down the line.
AI will replace human employees
While it’s true that AI will make humans redundant in some areas of work, AI will never completely replace humans. It can’t fully replace the personal touch necessary in sectors like HR, recruitment, healthcare, and consulting. It can however, remove the burden of mundane manual work like reporting, scheduling meetings, and data entry.
For those in the business world, artificial intelligence isn’t going to absolve the need to maintain customer relationships. These will always rely on quintessentially human feelings of trust, empathy and understanding – none of which can be accurately replicated using AI. However, AI can assist professionals by providing them with the insights and information they need to deliver a better, more personal service.
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AI is creating a new range of roles while it simultaneously eliminates others, as implementing and managing new technologies will always require some degree of human guidance and expertise. Bullhorn, the CRM software company, has gradually seen an increase in number of vacancies for jobs that deal with managing artificial intelligence, including software engineers, analysts, researchers, and project managers.
The pace at which AI is developing will inevitably force businesses to change how they work. But it should complement productivity and efficiency, not impede it. Humans still hold responsibility for incorporating AI into their working lives without causing significant disruption to existing culture and infrastructure. It presents an exciting array of new opportunities for businesses – but it’s up to people to harness its powers and put them to effective use.
Sourced by Peter Linas, international managing director, Bullhorn
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