The start of a new epoch
Popular culture generally believes that once machines can beat the Turing Test we’re all going to hell in a silicon-lined handcart; consigned to the bargain bin of evolution.
We all know we’ve been less than lovely to each other and our planet, so why would Artificially Intelligent beings not take over and then punish us for our crimes? Cue Terminator, The Matrix and a dozen other dystopian visions of the future. And the nervousness of serious thinkers like Stephen Hawking and even Elon Musk.
But those of us still gazing at our collective navel are about to miss one of the most spectacular phases of human history.
AI has reached a tipping point. Artificially intelligent machines aren’t about to become self-aware. But they are about to be deployed by humans to disrupt global markets. We’re moving beyond the Digital Age, into the AI Age.
From call centres to the NHS, which has partnered with Google Deepmind to train algorithms on diagnosing medical conditions more accurately, the impact of AI is already being felt – but it’s just the tip of a very large iceberg that will sink businesses that choose to ignore it.
The insurance industry is already being disrupted by British firm Tractable, which uses AI image recognition to assess damaged cars and provide repair estimates. Experts predict it won’t be long before financial traders in the City, who have long used intuition to guide their decisions, will be outsmarted by intelligent machines that can recognise subtle patterns and will be incapable of making dud investments. The greatest minds in business are already thinking of ways for Artificial Intelligence to disrupt unexpected industries like construction, real estate and agriculture. The Artificial Intelligence tsunami is building and all businesses and sectors must be ready for when the wave breaks.
A huge upswing in data traffic across networks is just one consequence of the proliferation of AI. Current Machine-To-Machine predictions foretell the rise of wearables in the workplace, enabling employers to track everything from the whereabouts of staff to accurate mileage for work-related journeys. Retailers are also making use of M2M technology to enrich the shopping experience, using customer facing connected products and services to increase revenue and brand presence. In fact, M2M adoption in retail grew by 88 per cent in 2015 alone.
This year the World Economic Forum had the massive impact of Artificial Intelligence in mind when it made “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” the topic of its Davos conference.
The findings were grim – by 2020 the transformation of the labour market will allegedly lead to a loss of more than 5million jobs in 15 developed and emerging economies.
Founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab, issued a warning to governments, businesses and consumers: “Without urgent and targeted action today to manage the near-term transition and build a workforce with futureproof skills, governments will have to cope with ever-growing unemployment and inequality, and businesses with a shrinking consumer base.”
While workers aren’t about to be obliterated by killer robots, it would be wrong to dismiss Schwab’s predictions as completely out of hand - particularly when AI poses a threat to so many jobs.
Chief executive of AI application company Volume Global, Chris Sykes, believes it is important for business to recognise the concerns of the workforce and to proceed with AI after thorough consultation to allay any fears.
Chris says: “Certain professions including law, accountancy and roles involving predicative analysis are ripe for disruption, so some sensitivity is required.
“However, workers and their employers will benefit as Artificial Intelligence will relieve human beings from the mundane, strengthening their position by allowing them to concentrate on higher value tasks and interactions.
“A call centre agent might spend most of the day answering the same questions. That is demotivating and a bad use of their time. An AI application could take care of such enquiries, elevating the agent to dealing solely with complex requests. This benefits the company and the worker.”
There are clear parallels between concerns over Artificial Intelligence and the widespread fear of the advent of the microchip in the seventies and eighties.
Robots hadn’t taken over the earth, but bank workers and their unions were worried about the rise of ATMs, which at the time were viewed as job-snatching daleks dead set on exterminating vulnerable tellers.
Such concerns forced a senior executive at the Midland Bank (now part of HSBC) to issue a statement assuring staff their roles were safe.
Jim Jarman said: “There is no fear of jobs being lost to microchips. Staff will be presented with a more interesting job with as much as possible of the tedious work being done by machines.”
Thirty years later the microchip’s positive impact on employment and the economy is undeniable, yet there are strikingly similar worries over the consequences of AI.
Chris Sykes points out that businesses wishing to make use of the opportunity presented by Artificial Intelligence should be mindful of workforce reservations, but highlights that just as the microchip allowed bank tellers to concentrate on less boring jobs, AI will do the same.
He says: “Volume Global’s mantra is ‘Optimising human performance through smart machines’. One of our big successes is a virtual technical advisor, which can troubleshoot IT problems.
“Research tells us that 60 to 70 percent of questions dealt with by expert advisors are either non-technical or low end, so an AI application mops up those issues and leaves the remaining 30 per cent for a skilled professional to sort.”
With AI’s unstoppable rise, traditional firms should be aware of how it could disrupt their market, and prepare to become disrupters themselves, or to adapt rapidly as the world alters around them. To exploit such massive opportunities, firms will need a digital platform that is ready for the changes AI will bring.
Chris from Volume Global says: “Embrace the disruption. It is a way to push business forward. There is more opportunity now than ever before - provided you have adequate technology to support what you do.”
It has taken 15 to 20 years for the internet to become the resource first dreamed of by Tim Berners-Lee. Artificial Intelligence will disrupt the business landscape in half, or perhaps even a third of that time.
As a new epoch dawns, is your business ready?
What did artificial intelligence make of this article?
To see if AI thought this piece was up to scratch, we submitted it to IBM’s Watson Tone Analyser.
The application is available free online and judges prose on emotion, language style and the “social tendencies” or subtle thrust of the text.
So how did we do?
The above article was deemed : “Open with a broad emotional range that included notable elements of fear and anger.”
Err, not quite the look we were hoping for! Did the AI get it right?
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