What is Artificial Intelligence?
In broad terms, artificial intelligence (AI) is intelligence exhibited by machines performing cognitive functions otherwise associated with humans, basic examples being learning and problem solving. In the context of technology, AI is the scientific field relating to the research and development of computer software and systems capable of intelligent behaviour.
AI is a very extensive subject with many branches, chief among them being machine learning (ML), natural language processing (NLP), computer vision and speech. Chances are you’ve already heard of one or more of those terms. They have become vastly over-used buzzwords. Other less frequently discussed disciplines of AI include expert systems, planning and robotics.
One of the main goals of the field, and of many AI researchers, is artificial general intelligence (AGI - sometimes referred to as strong AI). This is arguably the holy grail of AI. The representation of general human cognitive ability in machines; machines with comprehensive knowledge and cognitive computing capabilities that facilitate performance far beyond that of a human. It could turn out to be a date with the devil, only time will tell. Weak AI, in contrast, is artificial intelligence with a focus on one narrow task, and is what could potentially transform your business.
Why has AI become so popular?
The term “artificial intelligence” was coined back in 1956 when it became an academic discipline. Since then the field has observed numerous waves of optimism and productivity, each one promising breakthroughs that will change the world, only to fade over time as initiatives run out of money and results prove unsatisfactory or inconclusive. We’re now in a new wave of optimism, with much more powerful hardware at our disposal, which is why AI is so popular right now and why it has become one of the most distorted concepts in the tech world.
Contrary to what some experts would have you believe, AI is not the panacea. It can’t solve every business problem, and chances are it won’t solve all of your problems either. Jumping on the AI bandwagon can prove expensive, and it can introduce far more problems than it solves. But, implemented correctly and for the right reasons, AI can be a powerful tool that will not only improve the efficiency and productivity of your business, but its profitability
Hurry or you might get left behind.
This seems to be a common concern for many companies today. The fear of being left in the dust while every other company adopts AI in some form or other, reaping the benefits and climbing to the top of its respective industry. Whilst there is definitely a valid argument for considering AI as a method of improving productivity within your business, the priority should be to determine what AI can do for you, how much it will cost and how long it will be before you realise any tangible benefits.
AI can be introduced to almost any business, but knowing when it makes sense and when it doesn't, is key. For some companies, it will translate into nothing more than exorbitant consultancy fees, a vast cloud computing invoice at the end of each month, and little to no benefit.
So, how do you determine whether AI will help or hinder your business? Unfortunately, there’s no hard and fast rule. There are a lot of factors to take into consideration, a lot of variables and different approaches for each implementation of AI, but it can help to take a look at some of the areas of business that are being improved by AI every day.
Chatbots are a good example of technology that has vastly improved customer care efficiency. Designed to credibly emulate how a human would behave as a conversational partner, they are becoming increasingly popular as a preferred initial point of contact for customers. They can effectively reduce the amount of human interaction required, and in many cases resolve customer support issues without any human intervention whatsoever. This technology is achieved using a combination of natural language processing and machine learning. There are many commercial options available, many of which integrate with the leading customer service software solutions straight out of the box.
Security is an important area in which AI can provide significant benefits. Unlike traditional security solutions, AI-based counterparts have the ability to proactively detect and prevent attacks before they do damage. AI technology can detect abnormalities within a company’s network and flag them far quicker than a human could. The ability to understand and learn what is normal through the use of machine learning and pattern recognition, and differentiate between safe and potentially malicious behaviour, is an invaluable asset. Unfortunately, there is still no silver bullet in the world of cyber security, but AI has enabled this particular branch of IT to make noteworthy technological advances.
E-commerce has evolved significantly thanks to functionality like purchase recommendations; a common form of AI that we all witness when we shop online. These create the illusion of a personalised shopping experience, a simple and proven method of increasing sales. Machine learning is a very powerful tool in this context. More complex AI solutions in e-commerce include purchase predictions, product relevance and dynamic price optimisation.
Marketing has been revolutionised by AI. Tailored recommendations, personalised news feeds, image recognition, language recognition, ad targeting and optimisation, social semantics and sentiment analysis, are all techniques employed by companies around the world to get their products in front of their intended target audience with minimal human intervention and cost. The analysis of customer data puts companies in a very powerful position as it enables them to create an accurate bespoke service for each unique customer or end user, and AI can perform this task much faster and much more efficiently than a human ever could.
Recruitment has changed forever thanks to AI and, specifically, machine learning. LinkedIn is a perfect testament to this and has been at the forefront of machine learning research and development for many years. Their recruiter recommendation system is entirely reliant on this technology to help recruiters build and manage a talent pool that increases the likelihood of a successful hire. It allows its users to seek new employment opportunities with advance query tools that ensure meaningful results are returned that match their profile, experience and skills. This ultimately results in a much more fine-tuned and satisfying experience for the user.
Digitisation is a key step towards adopting AI within your business. This is the process of converting information in physical form, into digital. Whilst many businesses may deal exclusively in digital data, not all do, and it’s important to understand the necessity for digital data. In my experience I have found that industries leading in AI adoption (high tech corporations, telecoms operators, automotive manufacturers, commercial and military aviation developers) are those which are the most digitised. It is very common for early adopters of AI to have already invested in digital capabilities such as cloud infrastructure and big data. It is often very difficult for a business to leapfrog to AI without having had a digital-transformation experience. Furthermore, the odds of generating profit from the use of AI are significantly higher for companies that have strong experience in digitisation. This is a key factor to take into consideration before investing untold amounts of money in AI.
Change-management is an important consideration when getting ready to adopt AI. The importance of preparation really cannot be understated. Senior executives right down to front-line employees should be closely involved from the start, ensuring the reasons for adopting AI are clearly understood throughout the business. Often, the change-management challenges of introducing AI into employee processes and decision-making far outweigh the technical implementation decision-making challenges. As companies determine which tasks machines should handle, versus those that humans perform, both new and existing, it becomes critical to implement plans for the constant training and re-skilling of the workforce. As AI continues to evolve and progress, businesses need to shift from a primary focus on process efficiency to a focus on decision-management effectiveness.
Hollywood movies and science fiction novels continue to depict AI in the form of sentient machines or beings capable of taking over the world, but the reality is quite different. AI has certainly evolved enough to provide many benefits in almost any industry today, but the technological singularity is far from being an immediate concern for any of us. Make no mistake; the next digital frontier is here, and it’s artificial intelligence. While some businesses continue to struggle after previous digital disruptions, a new one is taking shape. If you would like to discuss artificial intelligence and how it can potentially benefit your business, please get in touch with us.
David Mitchell is a software developer and AI specialist with 16 years of experience, both as a senior employee, and as an entrepreneur and business owner. Outside of Chess Digital, David consults for a number of industry-leading companies such as Jaguar Land Rover, Tesla and SpaceX. When not working, David enjoys robotics, aviation, martial arts and playing guitar and piano.