AI’s Democratisation Will Make it all Pervasive

by June 16, 2020 0 comments

Artificial Intelligence (AI) isn’t just a technology that brings much promise for the future to solve complex scientific or industrial challenges. It is closer to you today than you think, making our day to day lives easier. Take for example AI-powered personal assistants like Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant that are built-in on smartphones. Or a variety of Google products from search to maps to Google Home, that have various forms of AI built-in.

Since its mainstreaming began about a decade back, AI has moved from the realms of well-funded PhD-holding data scientists working in cutting edge research labs to open-source software accessible to anyone.

AI’s game-changing potential for the enterprise

For enterprises, AI promises to truly be a game-changer that fundamentally shifts the landscape of development of new business, financial and operating models in the 21st Century. According to the 2019 KPMG survey of senior leaders at 30 of the world’s largest companies, 26% have already deployed Robotic Process Automation at scale across the enterprise, and 83% expect to do so by 2022. For the deployment of machine learning at scale, these figures stood at 17% and 50%, respectively.

Because AI-based technologies are well-suited to take over repeatable, rule-based routine tasks, they inject productivity improvement across a range of functions, from supply chain management to customer service and tax compliance. Due to their ability to also replicate cognitive tasks that involve human thinking and decision making, they can support growth through innovation, helping companies invent new products and drive new services and business models.

To be sure, some functions have found more uses of AI than others. Sales and marketing lead the use case race, where customer data used to personalize experiences, promotions and thereby, increase sales, especially in retail. Supply chain management and manufacturing aren’t far behind. AI’s propensity for forecasting based on underlying causal drivers of demand reduces inventory costs and boosts revenue. Risk assessment and management, especially in financial services, is a natural strength of these technologies in loan underwriting and fraud detection. Service operations, product development, strategy and corporate finance, IT and HR, are the other areas where AI has already proven its utility.

AI is being used extensively in retail to improve supply chain, predict demand, measure the effectiveness of marketing campaigns, recommend cross-selling/upselling of products, predict a return order and smart warehousing to ensure picking and packing time is optimized. The life sciences industry uses AI for drug discovery, clinical trials, predict epidemic/pandemic spread rates, identify hotspots, etc. Financial services firms are leveraging AI chatbots to provide enhanced customer experience, wherein, customer requests are fulfilled within minutes, significantly reducing the number of tickets. Customer support activities are increasingly moving towards zero-touch operations. These are just a few use cases.

The AI-human jobs dynamic

At its core, AI is a technology accelerator and enabler. It liberates workers from mundane, repetitive, time-consuming tasks, so they can focus their energies on more innovative, creative, interactive and collaborative pursuits/tasks. Yet, its impact has fuelled an ongoing debate whether AI and automation will replace humans, leading to much concern and speculation. It has caused workers to wonder which skills are replaceable, which will be automated, and what they can do to ensure their skills remain competitive.

Balakrishna D R, Senior Vice President, AI & Automation Services, Infosys

Balakrishna D R, Senior Vice President, AI & Automation Services, Infosys

Technology has always replaced tasks, not necessarily, jobs. Even when jobs have been made redundant, several more have been created by it. For example, email, computers, and the internet elevated worker productivity and collaboration. The autopilot mode on aeroplanes was first incorporated in its most basic form back in 1914. Over a century later, it still hasn’t replaced the human pilot but has helped make his/her job easier, and consequently, the skies safer.

At the same time, AI will transform the nature of work and the workplace itself. Over the long run, it will take on more tasks done by humans, complement human ability and even perform some tasks that humans cannot. Consequently, some occupations will decline, others will grow, and many more will change. Enterprises will need to grapple with significant workforce transitions and dislocation, while workers will need to acquire new skills and adapt to increasingly capable machines alongside them in the workplace. Humans will need to upgrade with new skills and, in some cases, change to new occupations.

The paradox of AI is that it holds both tremendous promise and mystery. AI potentially is to the 21st century, what electricity was for the 20th. From poverty alleviation to healthcare breakthroughs, to climate change, AI holds the greatest promise in answering questions that the most vexing issues pose to humanity. Therefore, it is imperative to prepare for a future that leverages AI – whether you are an individual, organization, or nation.

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