As we look into the crystal ball of a new year we find some prominent tech trends in the consumer marketplace that are also stimulating innovation and transformation in the corporate world. Virtual reality, 3D printing, drones, wearables, big data, the Internet of Things (IoT) and connected devices are impacting manufacturing and sectors ranging from the enterprise, healthcare, cities, transportation, retail, education and other businesses.
But in this column, we take a look at one potential game-changer—artificial intelligence (AI)—that could reboot businesses and empower them to achieve a sustainable, quantum improvement in performance that alters the trajectory of the future. It’s about identifying new ways for companies to do things differently, and to innovate by doing distinctive things.
AI is coming of age as business leaders grasp the immense potential of ‘smart’ machines and ‘thinking’ as catalysts for greater efficiencies and competitiveness. By 2019, the global market for content analytics, discovery and cognitive systems software is projected to reach $9.2 billion, according to IDC’s recent Worldwide Content Analytics, Discovery, and Cognitive Systems Software Forecast, 2015–2019.
In November, AI advanced with image-recognition software being used to challenge the typical text box search. Pinterest and online footwear retailer Shoes.com are testing new ways to search or browse using just images rather than text, according to a recent report in MIT’s Technology Review. This deep learning technique powers Google’s image search and the automated helpers’ photo service it launched last summer.
Each year, Edge.org, a brain trust publishes essays from thinkers, scholars and researchers related to a hot topic in public and academic discourse. This year’s question was, “What do you think about machines that think?” In grappling with this question, a major comment thread was that AI is no longer a future abstraction but rather is becoming a palpable reality.
In the Edge.org probe, several other themes emerged. AI is expected to augment human workers—making humans more effective, sharpening their expertise and facilitating innovation by reducing the barriers between humans and machines. For now, augmentation is more common in the area of cognitive computing, in which machines can sense, comprehend and even act alone. Cognitive computing is more about “person and machine” rather than “person versus machine.”
A number of respondents touched on advances in how thinking machines could augment human intelligence and human-machine interaction—many of which have implications in vertical industries such as health, management, entertainment and other creative endeavors.
Other scenarios see AI in the form of digital assistants that humans can use to more effectively perform tasks like enterprise customer service, workflow management or collaboration. “The world faces a set of increasingly complex, interdependent and urgent challenges that require ever more sophisticated response,” wrote Demis Hassabis, Shane Legg and Mustafa Suleyman of Google DeepMind. “We’d like to think that successful work in artificial intelligence can contribute by augmenting our collective capacity to extract meaningful insight from data and by helping us to innovate new technologies and processes to address some of our toughest global challenges.”
This trend is disrupting the “old order.” Smart, connected products are transforming companies, corporate strategies, entire value chains or ecosystems, as well as quality of life and competition. AI holds the promise of unleashing a new wave of creativity, opportunities and profitability. It will drive another chapter in the ongoing industrial technological revolution and offer companies, countries and economies opportunities to reinvent themselves for a more vibrant and optimistic future.