2016 may have been the year that Artificial Intelligence (AI) went mainstream as an idea, but 2017 looks like it might be the year when businesses really begin to adapt and start to apply Artificial Intelligence on scale. Last week, I was interviewed by Reuters (see video below) to discuss how global corporations can start practically applying AI to their industry, stepping away from the ‘doom-and-gloom’ perspective of job-losses and Skynet that have dominated debate so far. I thought it might be helpful to draw out some of what we discussed.
AI is going to change everything. But not immediately
While I firmly believe that AI is ultimately going to transform every industry, it’s important to recognise that it’s not going to be an overnight shift. Business leaders need to understand that AI is still a new technology with a long way to go, and simply ‘bringing in AI’ isn’t a viable solution. In the short term, it’s going to make organisations more efficient and more intelligent – it’s not going to replace thousands of jobs.
AI solutions need to be directed and applied carefully to achieve results
To maximise positive impact, leaders should be clear about what they want AI to do within their business model, before they rush in. Artificial Intelligence can supercharge a business, but it still needs careful handling.
CEOs and CIOs need to ask: what do we want to do? Generate better customer service? Help employees make better decisions? Enable customer to use more of our products or services? Essentially, it’s crucial that business leaders ask business questions before they ask AI questions. What problem do they have? What kind of AI solution will work for them?
As an example, legal firms currently need junior staff to spend a majority of their time sifting through documentation and legal changes, rather than actually practising the law. Signal’s AI can automate a lot of that knowledge gathering, freeing up personnel to focus on higher-value strategic work. By placing AI tools in the supply chain, you’re far more likely to get an outcome that you want, because they’re tailored for specific problems. No single tool can solve every issue.
Workforces need training in how to use AI solutions. The earlier the better
Any answer you ever receive is only as good as the question you asked in the first place. Anyone who’s ever used Google knows that. So it’s crucial that workforces understand the potential of the tools they’re being asked to use – and the benefits.
By embedding Artificial Intelligence in a business where they understand its value, employees will be able to work smarter and more intelligently. Then they’re freed up to do more of what they’re best at, which makes everyone happier. Workforces have a certain level of reluctance to AI at the moment – mostly thanks to the explosive comments by figures like Elon Musk – and they need help exploring and understanding the capacities of AI.
Governments can always do more to help. In talent, and in funding
With all the current political complexities following Brexit, it’s crucial that the government continues to allow talent into the UK. Signal was built with academic partnerships across the world, and if that gets harder, then AI development will accelerate beyond the UK.
Access to funding sources is crucial for early-stage businesses – Signal itself was funded initially by a government grant to build practical applications for academic work, and we wouldn’t be here without that support. AI is still a nascent area, where there are lots of ideas being had and many of them need that early stage help from government to help them go from theoretical concept to business impact.