Artificial intelligence (A.I.) is often used as a plot device for doom-and-gloom science-fiction stories set in the future. The reality, however, is that A.I. has been around for quite some time--and it's incredibly useful for businesses.
In fact, this technology has been assisting us daily in ways we barely even consider. Whenever you say, "Hey Siri," shop on Amazon, play songs on Pandora, or search for a photo on Facebook, A.I. is quietly working behind the scenes to deliver what you need. Over the past decade, this technology has slowly integrated into our everyday lives, but progress is rapidly picking up speed.
According to a recent Forbes article, Forrester is predicting we will see a 300 percent increase in A.I. investment this year alone. Meanwhile, Bloomberg stated that in 2014 more than $300 million in venture capital was invested in A.I. startups.
So, do you have a plan in place on how your business can use A.I. to its advantage? If not, now's the time to start.
Reaping the benefits
Using A.I. in the workplace has many benefits that can affect everything from customer service to office climate control. Some of the standout perks include:
Humana Inc. recently implemented A.I. to help it's call center employees prevent customer meltdowns. The technology can sense customers' emotions and detects keywords that signal when a conversation is about to get heated. Employees are then better equipped to manage the conversation.
But this isn't the only way A.I. can be used to improve communication. Voice-activated systems can send hand-free messages; writing tools are learning context in order to improve grammar; and marketing systems are analyzing trends in big data to push the right content out to the right customers.
Improved customer satisfaction
A.I. can be used to deeply personalize the shopping experience. With certain algorithms in place, your systems can get a better idea of customers' preferences and tastes, and provide them with more options. My favorite example of this is when Target's algorithm knew a teen girl was pregnant before her parents did. Based on her shopping preferences, the retailer discovered she was expecting and started sending coupons for baby items to her family's home.
This concept doesn't stop at shopping either. It can be applied to your content, customer service, or help desk strategies as well.
Streamlined facility control
Through the use of sensors and connected devices, you can use A.I. to manage everything from temperature control in office spaces to connected cars in the company fleet. Over time, A.I. can learn employee patterns and behaviors and adapt accordingly--freeing up time to spend on other activities.
Having employees manually sift through big data to crunch numbers and provide meaningful insights is extremely time-consuming. A.I., on the other hand, can be used to quickly analyze big data and provide key takeaways so you can make vital business decisions in real time.
On the other side of the spectrum, A.I. also comes with a slew of potential pitfalls business leaders need to know. Will you have a policy in place about Alexa passively listening to all office conversations? If you've decided to eliminate positions and replace them with A.I., how will that impact company culture? When the robots rise up and Judgment Day is upon us, how are you going to find Sarah Connor? Just kidding. Mostly.
But, in all seriousness, you need to understand the potential pitfalls before adopting any A.I. technology. Here are a few to consider:
There is currently an open murder investigation in Arkansas where detectives are hoping Alexa can help them identify the killer. The scene of the crime had several IoT devices, including an Amazon Echo, which law enforcement believes may have been recording in the time frame leading up to the murder.
Seizing any passive recordings made by Alexa, Siri, Cortana, etc., puts fourth amendment rights into question--and there's currently no real resolution in sight. However, if you plan to use voice-activated A.I. in your workplace, it's vital to define policies and procedures before implementation.
Dehumanizing the brand
Since firing all of their human editors and replacing them with A.I. algorithms, Facebook has repeatedly trended fake news to its users. This scandal damaged consumer trust levels at a time when journalism legitimacy is called into question almost daily.
It's situations like these that remove the human element from a brand and make customers keenly aware they are not dealing with people.
In the early days of Netflix, I once spotted a movie category that was titled: "Movies Starring Actors who Look Like Zach Galifianakis." I still cannot fathom how that ever became a category option, but this is what happens when an A.I. algorithm is lacking either context or data.
Anomalies happen with A.I., and they can occur frequently. Whether it's a classical Pandora station randomly playing hardcore rap or targeted ads continuing to promote a product that was already purchased, these A.I. mistakes make the business look bad.
Not a one-size-fits-all solution
What works for one company may not work for another. The A.I. that's geared to do certain things for a financial institution may not be as efficient for a medical startup. Whichever A.I. technology you want to invest in, make sure it is tested and validated to suit your businesses needs.
Regardless of these pitfalls, A.I. is evolving at ever-increasing rates. The companies that thoroughly research and implement this technology--in ways that speak to the overall vision of the business--are the ones that will have an edge on their competitors and potential disrupters. These businesses will be able to free up time and resources in order to gain more market share and find customers in ways traditional businesses can't even begin to fathom.
The time to invest in and take advantage of A.I. is now--before the coming robot wars make us all obsolete. Kidding again. Hopefully.