Artificial Intelligence: The Harbinger of a Brighter Business Future or Dystopia?

Pedro Pereira

Artificial intelligence (AI) causes a mixture of marvel and fear. A machine’s ability to perform a human function is certainly fascinating, but what if machines get so good that they displace the need for humans altogether? It’s an understandable dread that conjures up dystopian visions, but only if you fail to see the technology’s true potential.

As AI takes on human qualities, its mission isn’t to threaten, but rather to enhance. Through complex learning algorithms, contextual analysis and image recognition, AI does work that humans, prone to distraction and fatigue, cannot match in accuracy or frequency. AI spots trends and patterns way faster than humans with its seemingly infinite capacity to learn, analyze, recognize and recommend.

In areas such as fleet routing optimization, marketing, HR and equipment maintenance, these capabilities are already being put to good use.

Cross-Industry Appeal

In its Technology Vision 2017 Survey, Accenture found 79 percent of 5,400 IT and business executives agree artificial intelligence will accelerate technology adoption in their organizations. “AI is poised to enable companies to improve the experience and outcome for every critical customer interaction,” noted the report.

It already impacts our lives in myriad ways. In its simplest form, AI curates content, as in the case of the online music service Spotify. But AI also performs weightier functions across a range of industries: improving crop yields in agriculture, optimizing routes and schedules in transportation and logistics and monitoring patients’ health while keeping them in touch with healthcare providers through mobile apps.

In travel, apps incorporate AI to sift through and analyze massive amounts of data with the goal of learning patterns and discerning trends to deliver personalized information to customers. Travelers who show a predilection for bed and breakfasts or national parks, for instance, receive recommendations tailored to their preferences.

“The holy grail for travel brands today is personalizing the guest experience,” Greg Oates, senior editor at travel site Skift, recently told MarketWatch. “Artificial intelligence really helps with that because it can crunch so much data and connect dots around users so much faster than traditional search.”

Corporate Benefits

Within an organization, AI can be implemented across multiple departments, from HR to finance to marketing to customer service.

HR departments are automating routine tasks associated with onboarding, training, employee surveys and employee inquiries. Recruiters are turning to AI to match potential hires with vacancies. The process is faster and more accurate because AI systems hone in on the required skills in seconds, as opposed to hours or days.

In sales and marketing, AI measures customer sentiment and tracks buying habits. Brands and advertisers use the information to make ecommerce more intuitive and for targeted promotions.

From a corporate finance standpoint, AI creates efficiencies that wouldn’t be possible without sifting through piles of data. A shipping company that optimizes its vehicle routing, for instance, sees financial gains by saving fuel and cutting down on vehicle wear and tear.

User Experience

AI is also reinventing user experience. Accenture calls it “the new UI.” Take Google Maps, for example: Rather than just a map with a dot showing your location, Google offers its users updates to navigation routes based on traffic delays, car accidents, and other roadblocks.

The auto industry enhances user experience as carmakers pack their vehicles with artificial intelligence. Leveraging sensors and cameras, many new vehicles can prevent collisions through lane-departure correction and automatic braking, while some cars can already park themselves. Eventually, all new vehicles will be connected so they can communicate with each other about road conditions and traffic hazards.

Some Losses, Even More Gains

No question, some positions are at risk. Self-driving vehicles threaten professions like taxi driving and long-haul trucking, just as the internet killed travel agencies; automated cranes replaced work performed by longshoremen; and robots displaced autoworkers in assembly lines.

Such casualties are a common side effect of technology advances. However, while AI may kill some jobs – even entire industries – it will also create new ones, which will require businesses to rethink how they acquire the needed skills at all societal levels, from education to corporate management to government.

Leveraging AI doesn’t entirely replace humans. As we peer into the future of AI, there is more to embrace than fear. Most of what AI replaces will be drudgery – repetitive tasks that humans can only perform with limited efficiency. But AI cannot match the human ability to create, innovate and envision, or replace human interaction where absolutely needed, be it a between doctor and patient or employer and worker.

Despite AI’s potential effects for better or worse, there’s no need to worry; humans are not about to become obsolete.

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