Year 2020 does have a sci-fi ring to it. Perhaps that’s one reason AI has so many people nervous. It sounds ominous. In the year 2020…THE MACHINES WILL RISE. And they will. Or rather, they have. AI is everywhere. From your smart phone to your Google search to your Netflix and Spotify recommendations, AI shapes modern US work and life in many ways.
Despite its growing ubiquity, fear of AI remains. The 2019 Artificial Intelligence—American Attitudes and Trends report from the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford found that “more Americans think that high-level machine intelligence will be harmful to humanity” than those who think it will be beneficial. That pessimistic outlook is also shaping how some businesses approach AI: with more trepidation than imagination. But today’s executive boards won’t have it. The 2019 Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey found that today’s boards are telling their IT leaders to make AI a strategic business and innovation priority.
For those leaders who are feeling anxious about AI risks or unsure the opportunities, here are three quick reminders of the many ways AI is already doing incredible work—work worth replicating or building on.
1. Vision: AI can help you see better
AI has the ability to give businesses better, sharper vision in order to shape services and products to customer needs. Right now, you see this enhanced customer vision playing out in daily life at your everyday Starbucks and McDonalds locations. Through mobile apps and rewards/membership programs, Starbucks and McDonald’s customers share their preferences and buying habits, from what they buy and how often to when and where they buy it. In fact, McDonald’s biggest acquisition in decades was the purchase of Dynamic Yield, a start-up with the AI technology to personalize the drive through experience.
Through AI and big data analytics, these industry-leading chains are able to see and understand their customers as individuals and offer highly customized service experience. A coupon for a favorite treat on your birthday. A suggestion for a cold version of your favorite hot beverage. Then, AI can take all the billions of customized moments to make strategic suggestions for business improvement, from how to schedule shifts to better cover busy times to what products and supplies to stock and what to discontinue.
The place to start for most businesses is an examination of how to incorporate AI into the customer experience. AI provides the vision to see customers as individuals, responding to their preferences with speed and intelligence. Where and when are customers engaging your business and how can you leverage those moments to gather the data needed to be an even more effective provider? How could AI relieve your teams of tedious, manual tasks so they can focus on better serving and engaging the customer? Finding the blind and fuzzy spots in the customer life cycle is a good place to start.
2. New connections: AI can bring diverse people together
Humans have always leveraged their own personal networks of referrals and connections to build empires—from the kingdoms of yesterday to the global corporations of today. The result, as we still see today, is our struggle to achieve diversity in workplaces and communities. AI doesn’t take referrals. It relies only on data to connect people, stripping out racial, gender and cultural biases from the process.
One place this is happening today is in recruitment. Businesses are using AI to identify and remove gender-specific or highly jargoned language in job postings. Why? Because minority and women candidates are less likely to apply when postings and requisitions are not inclusive. Cisco, for example, credits AI for part of its impressive diversity employment numbers, which were at 24% women employees and 47% non-white employees in 2018 when CNBC profiled the company’s use of AI in recruitment.
AI in recruitment is still in early stages and has had some famous stumbles, including Amazon having to end an AI pilot process because of its bias to male applicants. Like any piece of advanced software, AI has to improve and advance. As businesses look at its potential for stripping out biases that can hold progress back, it’s a good time for business leaders to look at where decision-making processes could be improved with more data and less personal bias. Perhaps it’s in how products are designed? How teams are trained? Candidates found? If there are places where more openness is needed, AI could provide support.
3. Efficiency: AI saves time
As the latest advancement in the technology arc of evolution, AI is having a powerful impact on efficiency. Chat bots are helping shoppers more efficiently navigate online purchases and get their questions and service issues addressed. Predicative email response tools, like Gmail’s Smart Reply and Smart Compose, are helping people communicate with greater speed and work faster. AI-driven design tools like Designhill’s AI Logo Creator accelerate once time-consuming design work by giving businesses the power to rapidly create their own logos by simple answering questions and choosing design styles.
One powerful way to eliminate the fear of AI is to remember that it is simply the next software advancement that will save businesses tremendous amounts of time and money by taking on tedious and time-consuming work. Just as printers replaced typing pools and accounting software eliminated the literal books of bookkeeping, AI is the next phase of efficiency-driving technology in the workplace. The strategic question for tech and business leaders is not an unfamiliar one: Where can this new technology (AI in this case) help us work better, smarter and faster?
AI’s bright sides are many, which is why it is already at work in so many parts of our lives and workplaces. As with all technology, what we put into it (good or bad) is what we get out. That’s how we mitigate downsides. Good, strategic work. Businesses that take the time to think, plan and act strategically and ethically with AI are the ones who have little to fear and the most to gain.