Robots aren't coming – they're already here

Robotics and AI are presenting technologists with an opportunity to have a Steve Jobs moment.

Chatbot
Credit: Thinkstock

If there is one thing the last year has shown me in my global travels and work, it’s this: now is the time for CDOs to determine their grand vision for artificial intelligence and machine learning and how it will shape their business strategy. Why? Because the robots are not coming. Right now, businesses are already leveraging the cognitive abilities of self-learning and self-correcting, software-driven robots. Their arrival is not a few years or months down the road. They are already in the workplace and in our lives. For businesses to compete, now is the critical moment to both explore how AI and machine learning can take their business to the next digital level and build a plan of action.

A picture perfect robot encounter

If you haven’t been surprised by the level of sophistication of a robot encounter yet in your daily life or work, I guarantee you won’t have to wait long. Most recently for me, it was working with a photo bot. In sorting my photos, the software (aka the robot) began to identify faces of people who I had tagged in photos and sort them. “Is this your sister?” it asked me when its facial recognition tool found my normally straight-haired sister’s face in a picture where her hair was curly. “Yes,” I answered and suddenly I realized that this automation software is thinking and we (the Robot and I) are collaborating to sort and file my photos.

The future of client engagement and product development

For my clients worldwide, the push into AI and machine learning is often focused on customer engagement and product/solutions development. “How can we use AI to better understand the future? What will our clients and the marketplace need and want one year, two years, five years from now?” This is a shift from analytics that automatically collect and analyze data from past interactions (buying behavior, customer service engagements, etc.) to leveraging AI to provide solutions that address both current and future challenges.

Chatbots, one of the most widely used AI tools on the Web right now, provide us with an early look at the possibilities for AI and machine learning. You’ve encountered their popup chat screens on Web sites as you shop or seek out customer service help.  Now, instead of simply using chatbots and other AI tools as communication devices to interact with customers at various phases of their shopping and decision making process, my clients are now exploring how bots can collect and analyze customer needs and business data simultaneously in order to fuel product/solution development. 

Right now, chatbots and other AI customer support technologies can handle relatively simple shopping and support interactions with customers.  However, as machine learning technology continues to advance, AI is taking on more complex tasks and requiring far less human intervention. In the near-future, these AI technologies will be collecting and analyzing sophisticated business data as they engage with customers. They will learn as they work, gaining the ability to identify patterns that forecast customer trends and market behaviors months, years even decades down the road. Once we envisioned, designed and built solutions using technology. Very soon, technology will be envisioning the products and solutions for us.  

The talent-robot conundrum

One of the greatest ironies today in the advance toward leveraging more robotics and AI is that businesses need highly skilled people to make it work. Specialists in cognitive robotics and machine learning are highly sought-after professionals. Many businesses are finding that they have to tap into the global talent pool to seek out experienced robotics and AI specialists. As with all tech advances, this will be a time CIOs, CDOs and other tech leaders will have to be creative in how they access the skills they need to develop the innovations they need. Next month I will share how one of our clients recently hosted a hackathon to serve the dual purpose of bringing talented people together to tackle a business challenge as well as identifying skilled experts to recruit.

What’s your AI vision?

For IT leaders, I believe this is a pivotal moment. Robotics and AI are presenting technologists with an opportunity to have a Steve Jobs moment. Will you be able to lay out a bold and grand vision for embracing and leveraging AI to do something remarkable? Or, will you follow the lead of others within your industry? Think and act fast because the robots are here and already hard at work. 

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