The biggest trend emerging in 2017 has got to be artificial intelligence (AI), and its applications in machine learning, robots, and blockchain technologies. This certainly became apparent for me at two events I attended last fall.

I was invited to speak about design thinking at logistic company Dematic's global supply chain conference and had a chance to visit their robotics trade show. The excitement about robotics and emerging technologies was through the roof, and no one seemed to be afraid of robots taking over the world. ( You might want to know why Dematic would would be interested in design thinking, given so much of their business is about automation. The answer is simple; they need cross-disciplinary problem-solvers, and leaders who know how to manage people, just like any other successful 21st century company.)

I also attended an event about "Humanity in the Age of AI" hosted by Sparks and Honey, an ad agency in New York City. We had a chance to experience the future of humanity through AI technology such as Tiltbrush by Google which creates 3D art in virtual reality; Artmatr an open source community that breaks down walls between the digital and creative process, and Classcraft a web-based fantasy game that teaches kids empathy. It was exciting to see creative applications of AI and consider new possibilities for human-centered innovation.

AI Threats and Opportunities

Leveraging Design Thinking in an AI world

Artificial intelligence can help companies anticipate customers' needs, but relying solely on logic and analysis is insufficient. No robot can replace human imagination, compassion, and the ability to empathize -- traits that will help you connect more deeply with your customers and create solutions they find desirable. Technology needs to be intentionally designed for and with people (and not just the engineers designing the bots in the first place).

"Much of the AI work is being developed by predominantly young, white, male engineers. Unfortunately, at this stage of life many important life events -- marriage, parenting, death of a loved one, job or income loss, or challenges on social and political views have not been experienced yet."

--Katryna Dow, founder and CEO of Meeco, a life management app.

AI provides opportunities for efficiency, productivity and even creativity. Design is the bridge between human needs and technology. Human-centered innovation begins with developing an understanding of customers' or users' unmet or unarticulated needs.

How will you leverage AI technology and human centered design to deliver value that meets your customers' needs and desires?

Your best bet is to create collaborative cross-disciplinary teams with design thinking discovery skills. Gain customer insights from real-world experiments, not just historical data or market research, and leverage those insights into human-centered innovation.

Published on: Feb 7, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.