By Jared Atchison​, co-founder of WPForms

Artificial intelligence (AI) is invading our everyday lives, but it's not as scary a concept as people once thought. AI has shown it can make our personal lives much easier, but it doesn't stop in our homes. Businesses are constantly coming up with new ways to use AI to engage with customers, make processes easier and drive sales.

We've already seen the popularity and effectiveness of AI-powered chatbots in recent years and how Facebook uses artificial intelligence to improve the results of ad campaigns. But what's next for AI and how can it further boost the success of businesses in 2019? Here are five artificial intelligence trends to watch in 2019:

Virtual Agents

In recent years many businesses, large and small, started using chatbots; this AI-powered tool could answer your website visitors' questions, qualify sales leads and help customers check out. But in 2019, expect to see more advances in AI-powered customer service. Companies won't just be using chatbots, they'll be creating virtual agents -- with a face and personality to match -- that can handle even more customer service tasks for your business.

For example, Autodesk's virtual agent Ava has a female face and voice that speaks in a way that lines up with the company's brand. It is much more successful than its previous chatbot because the team invested time in creating a persona. In 2019, expect to see more companies investing in life-like AI-powered virtual agents to carry on engaging conversations with customers.

Speech Recognition

Amazon's Alexa was a big hit with consumers in 2018, making it easier for people to search for information on the web and do things around the home, so expect to see a lot more speech recognition tools in 2019. In fact, 66.6 million Americans are projected to be using speech or voice recognition technology by 2019. Many companies will want to get on board with this AI trend.

This year, Sony, TiVo and Hisense unveiled TVs that can be controlled by voice. Even home appliance makers such as Delta, Whirlpool and LG have added Alexa's voice recognition skills to help people control everything in their homes from microwaves to faucets. Next year, I predict we'll see even more companies and products adopting speech recognition technology.

Smarter Retail Recommendations

When you shop online, many companies including Amazon give you product recommendations based on items you've previously purchased or browsed. In 2019, retail recommendations will be even smarter.

Artificial intelligence will be able to better recommend products based on tone and sentiment as well as browsing history. Similar to what 1-800-Flowers did with their AI gift concierge, Gifts When You Need, otherwise known as Gwyn, more companies will be providing more personalized and guided shopping experiences overall. Even shoppers in brick-and-mortar stores will be able to get product recommendations from AI-powered store displays like the one offered by Mystore-E.

Image Recognition

AI has made it possible to teach computers how to understand speech, but did you know that we can also teach computers how to see? Image recognition refers to the ability of computers to acquire, process and analyze data from visual sources.

There are many uses for image recognition including the ability to diagnose diseases, detect license plates and allow for photo analysis to complete payments or other verification. It can also help businesses improve their marketing. GumGum uses its proprietary computer vision technology to scan images and videos from millions of pages across the web, allowing brands to place relevant ads where users are most likely to see them. Expect image recognition to become bigger in 2019.

Cyber Defense

Cybercriminals are actively targeting cloud infrastructure, software-as-a-service (SaaS) platforms and internet of things devices -- it's a real menace for business owners. But artificial intelligence will make it much easier to prevent and fight off cyber threats and hackers in 2019.

Companies like Darktrace are using artificial intelligence and machine learning to detect online enemies in real time and identify cyber threats before they spread. AI can pick up on the subtle indicators of abnormal activity and defend your system early or while it's happening before the threat becomes uncontrollable.

Artificial intelligence is becoming more integrated into our everyday world as the years go by. Ten years ago, few of us imagined our fridges would be listening to us and understanding our commands, but today it's a reality -- and who knows what AI-powered technology will be available to us just a few years from now. Until then, take advantage of these AI trends for your business in 2019.

Jared Atchison​ is the co-founder of WPForms, a drag & drop form builder for WordPress that's being used on over 400,000 websites.

Published on: Nov 28, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.