Artificial Intelligence has long been a popular topic for fiction and speculative essays, but it also has broad potential applications in the future of innovation with regard to products and services.

The day is coming, for example, when your coffee maker -- without being programmed -- will brew a fresh pot before you go to work. You might even see Amazon recommend products that don't exist until you buy them.

Software has come a long way since the personal computer revolution of the 1980s, and AI is driving software toward a more integrated future. Software equipped with artificial intelligence is being used by more and more companies, largely because it has the ability to collect and analyze data faster and more accurately than a human.

AI can track complex facets of a project and implement changes automatically to increase efficiency. Identifying inefficiencies, evaluating performance, and quantifying outcomes are all tasks AI can already perform more accurately and efficiently than a human in many cases.

AI technology will soon be a service

For consumers, AI is already available in the form of wearable IoT devices, smart home speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home, and personal digital assistants like Siri, Cortana, and Google Now. These gadgets are already being sold as products, but it's not a stretch to envision them becoming sold as services on a monthly payment model, which would conceivably include regular software updates and functionality improvements.

For companies, AI offers multiple possibilities, including the potential for sale as a subscription service. For example, almost any company's business would benefit from the customer data and analytics insights generated by AI

As soon as the first major corporation gets results from using AI as a service, a rush of industries will adopt it for their business models. We'll also see the emergence of AI-powered software as a service industry.

While some fear an empowered AI, I predict that AI will change the way businesses interact with their customers in a manner that will benefit businesses as well as consumers, largely because of the potential for greater personalization.

AI will take personalization to a new level

The more specifically a product is tailored to a customer's preferences, the easier it will be to sell that product, and the more value a customer will get from the product.

But product innovation and personalization isn't easy -- coming up with an idea for a new product or a variation of an existing item requires extensive time, research, and analysis -- and AI can already do all these things much more efficiently than a human.

Personalized products are everywhere, but it's usually the design, rather than the features, that get customized. Also, the customer typically comes up with the personalization idea.

For example, anyone can buy a personalized T-shirt, pencil case, or messenger bag. These items start out plain, and a customer chooses the color and design.

After a while, companies learn which custom designs are most popular and can begin to manufacture and sell similar designs; it's a little like crowdsourcing the next product idea.

But when deep neural networks of information can be built, neither the company nor the customer will have to generate the new ideas -- AI will do it.

For example, imagine a drone manufacturer that uses AI to analyze modifications that customers make to their drones. The firm's website could offer specific customizations for each person and build the order on the fly (to coin a phrase).

Similarly, a Harvard professor has already created an AI system that generates suggestions for new drug compounds according to their molecular structure.

Using AI this way would also give the rest of the world access to people's custom products, and the company could sell the most popular modifications as standard products.

Automatically personalizing features for each customer would be effective, but it's all but impossible to execute manually.

AI's power to provide comprehensive data and suggest accurate changes to improve efficiency makes it highly desirable to businesses and consumers alike. As such, we'll soon see the rise of innovation in products and services sparked by data-backed recommendations from AI.

And that's a future we should celebrate -- not fear.

Published on: Aug 14, 2018