Technology & Innovation
AI & Automation: benefits for business & industry
Are you worried that robots will take over the world? You’re not alone.
A world where robots are self-aware and can think for themselves is a favorite theme of filmmakers, writers and sci-fi fans. Characters like See-Threepio (C-3PO) from Star Wars, Optimus Prime of Transformers and Skynet from the Terminator have been present on the big screen for decades. Always set far in the future, intelligent technology is finally be here.
Yet, many questions remain. What is the future of AI? Will robots be our friends and help us with missions in galaxies far away (or just at the office)? Or, are we likely to face a war against humanity? Are robots our friends or foes? Well, it depends on how you look at it…
History of AI
AI officially arrived on the scene in the early 20th century when Leonardo Torres y Quevedo built the first chess playing automat. Ever since, developers have been fixated on creating a machine that can reason and think for itself.
We’re entering a new industrial age, also known as Industry 4.0, where automation and AI technology can increase our productivity, analytical capabilities and much more. Harnessed correctly, this technology could allow employees to lead better lives and have more meaningful careers by reducing the amount of time spent on monotonous tasks while also cutting costs for businesses.
What is AI?
What is artificial intelligence? Founding fathers Minsky and McCarthy defined AI technology as a device that could use independent reasoning and intelligence to complete a task. This is clearly a fairly broad definition which often leads to confusion over whether something can truly be classed as AI technology. However, it wasn’t until the advances in machine learning were realized, that we had a breakthrough and the acceleration of AI powered products was made possible.
What is machine learning?
AI technology often depends on machine learning as this allows them to learn from their experiences and adapt their reactions accordingly. Machine learning can be defined as the science of teaching robots to learn and behave like humans. This process relies on a consistent input of data and information, which allows the robots to form observations and learn the appropriate reactions or responses to given situations.
The difference between AI and automation
It’s often difficult to determine whether something is AI or automation, also known as robotic process automation or RPA, technology as the line between the two is often blurred. AI technology often underlines automation, so the difference is not always obvious. Here’s a brief explanation, which should help.
Welcome to Industry 4.0
The advent of advanced technology like AI and automation, cyber-physical systems, and cloud computing and cognitive computing are radically transforming businesses. As these technologies become increasingly more mainstream, we are quickly approaching the next industrial revolution – Industry 4.0.
Industry 4.0 will transform how we work, produce products and even live. Harnessing this technology will allow us to increase our workload while working less hours, streamline manual and rather dull tasks and cut costs for businesses. We’ll attain greater productivity and efficiency as well as cheaper production costs. AI apps and systems can even make everyday life easier.
Robots can complete certain tasks quicker, more accurately and better than their human counterparts. For example, AI can process data substantially faster than the human brain and can uncover insights far beyond our grasp and chatbots can be available to support customers 24/7 as they don’t need to sleep or eat. By teaching machines to learn for themselves and complete mundane tasks, human employees can focus on more creative, social and fulfilling endeavors.
Will robots replace humans?
One of the biggest concerns about welcoming robots into the workplace is the threat to human jobs. Will human employees be completely replaced by robots? If humans are replaced, how will this impact society and the workforce?
Research from McKinsey Global Institute shows that these concerns aren’t unreasonable as they predict that approximately one-fifth of the global workforce will be impacted by the adoption of AI and automation. Developed countries like the US, United Kingdom and Germany are expected to see the biggest impact with estimates suggesting robots will replace between 400 and 800 million workers by 2030.
Within the next five years, we’re likely to see some impact from AI and automation technology. According to the World Economic Forum, nearly 50% of companies believe that automation technology will lead to a reduction in their workforce by 2022.
While these studies may sound like robots will replace humans, many think that welcoming robots into our workforce will simply change how we work. For example, the same study conducted by the World Economic Forum also showed that 38% of businesses believe AI and automation technology will allow employees to redirect their attention to more productive tasks and 25% of companies think automation will result in the creation of new roles.
“Producers will only automate if doing so is profitable. For profit to occur, producers need a market to sell to in the first place. Keeping this in mind helps to highlight the critical flaw of the argument: if robots replaced all workers, thereby creating mass unemployment, to whom would the producers sell? Because demand is infinite whereas supply is scarce, the displaced workers always have the opportunity to find fresh employment to produce something that satisfies demand elsewhere.” – Kallum Pickering, senior economist with Berenberg.
Everyday Artificial Intelligence examples
Whether we realize it or not, automation and AI is already in our everyday lives. Businesses use automation for admin tasks like sending out invoices or creating personalized customer emails. Healthcare professionals use AI to detect cancer from radiographs quicker and more efficiently. Most of us even have AI devices in our kitchens and living rooms and use them to play our favorite songs, bake a cake or order our shopping.
Devices like Google Maps use machine learning to calculate the fastest route home based on previous traffic flow, Amazon suggests products we might like based on previous purchases and Netflix helps us find binge-worthy TV shows based on our viewing habits. The options for incorporating AI and automation into our lives are truly limitless.
Personal and home assistants
Assistants like Siri from Apple, Alexa from Amazon, Cortana from Microsoft and Home from Google are becoming increasingly present in American homes. At last estimate, around 39 million Americans currently own a smart speaker, a 128% increase from last year!
These personal assistants use a ‘natural language interface’ which means that users can talk to the device as they would a human assistant and ask it to complete certain tasks or provide specific information like the weather or directions.
Devices are getting better at understanding human speech and some can even identify different users based on their voice. Advancements in voice recognition technology has made it secure enough for some banks to use ‘my voice is my password’ for telephone banking.
They’re also getting better at understanding their owner’s behaviors and offering relevant options based on previous responses or habits. Like any good assistant, they aim to please and the more you work together, the better they can understand what you like and then adapt their responses accordingly.
From taking over mundane tasks like managing finances to making restaurant reservations and ordering groceries, personal assistants can help us better manage our lives.
“One of the top causes of death for people is car accidents still and if you can eliminate that with AI, that is going to be just a dramatic improvement.” – Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook
Driverless cars are already being tested by companies such as Google Waymo, Uber and Drive.ai while Otto, the world’s first driverless truck, is currently delivering commercial freight in the Northwest and Daimlers’ Highway Pilot Connect, an AI driving aid, makes it possible for trucks to platoon and drift off each other – something that’s too dangerous when done manually.
Improvements still need to be made to self-driving software before it can become mainstream or upend our current distribution systems. Yet, the potential is certainly there, and we may soon live in a world where we no longer need to actually drive our cars.
We’ve all heard about the gig economy. But, now instead of hiring cyclists to deliver food companies may hire robots. Delivery robots may soon come to a city pavement near you, especially in large cities like San Francisco and London. While these autonomous robots mostly deliver fast food and small orders, they could soon be used to deliver mail and run errands.
Personalized online content
AI is already innovating online, digital content. In fact, you’ve probably already read copy that’s been written by a robot. Companies are already starting to employ AI copywriters. For example, The Washington Post uses robots to write their sports columns and Alibaba has a robot copywriter that can produce 20,000 lines of copy a second. AI bot Persado can generate personalized language and emotion for each and every customer, and Phrasee can write better email subjects than humans.
Chatbots have been around since the 1960s, but ‘conversational agents’ as automated customer service reps have only become common within the last few years. Rather than having a human available at all times, companies are using chatbots to answer customer queries.
There are two types of chatbots: automated and AI. Automated chatbots are pre-programmed and can only operate within a limited framework so can only answer set questions while AI chatbots use natural language processing to understand customer’s requests and provide “smart” answers. Natural language processing allows AI-driven chatbots to comprehend the nuances of human language and mimic human speech to encourage customer conversations.
In addition to serving as a live-chat representative, AI-powered chatbots can also order food, make restaurant reservations, book flights and get recommendations. Companies like Starbucks, Wholefoods, The Wall Street Journal and Pizza Hut are just a few that use chatbots.
Personalized products and news feeds
Large customer-focused companies like Amazon, Netflix and Google use an algorithm to analyze previous actions or behaviors and then make specific, personalized recommendations. For example, Netflix uses the shows you’ve previously watched to suggest TV shows or movies you might also enjoy while Facebook and Google also use AI to deliver tailored news feeds or search results based on your browser history.
In fact, the practice of using machine learning to discover customer preferences are so common you could regard them well and over exploited. However, this isn’t really a new concept if you consider the fact that supermarkets have been scanning our consumer habits and offering unique vouchers for years.
Applications of Artificial Intelligence in business
While AI and automation technologies are becoming more common within society, the technology also holds significant potential for companies. Implementing such devices can free up employees from repetitive and mundane tasks so that they can focus on more profitable and innovative pursuits. Rather than getting bogged down in admin tasks, business owners can use the additional time to focus on developing and growing their companies.
Artificial Intelligence in HR
A 2018 Global Trends report from LinkedIn reported that 76% of recruiters and hiring managers believe that automation and AI will significantly impact the recruitment industry. AI applications are already being used within HR to streamline certain aspects of the hiring process. Recruiters spend a lot of their time screening large amounts of job applications or scheduling interviews, which distracts from their main goal of matching the right candidate to the right role.
AI technology, like Ideal – an intelligent screening software, can help recruiters to quickly and efficiently screen applications and identify those most suitable for the role. This application uses data about current company employees’ skill sets and characteristics that contributed to employee success to find the perfect candidate. It can even gather data about candidates from alternative sources like social-media profiles. Other AI applications within the recruitment industry include chatbots which are used to answer candidates’ questions or provide feedback and interview software which can analyze answers to determine if they’re the ideal candidate.
AI and Marketing
Marketers are already harnessing the power of AI to gain insights into their customers’ behaviors and streamline key tasks. More than 50% of marketers already use an AI-powered platform and this figure is expected to grow by another 27% by 2019.
AI’s mass adoption in marketing is not surprising when you consider its wide range of benefits. Robot copywriters can increase companies’ ROI, click-through-rates, and at a lower cost than human employees. On the other hand, computer generated content can fulfill the mundane tasks, but it’s not quite developed enough to replace the subtle nuance of wit, intellect and individual style of the human writer.
Industrial & Manufacturing Automation
Manufacturing is probably one of the earliest industries to adopt AI technology as industrial robots, designed specifically for manufacturing plants, have existed since the mid-20th century. Over the last fifty years, AI and automation technology have reduced accident rates and made manufacturing plants much safer. Today, they’re used for dangerous tasks like welding as well as picking and packing.
Robots are particularly well-suited for manufacturing as they excel at repetitive tasks. When asked to complete the same task again and again, humans can easily become bored and distracted leading to poor products or even worse accidents. As such, robots can often perform these tasks better than their human counterparts.
As technology develops, industrial robots are gaining more capabilities like increased dexterity and reasoning skills. So much so that CNN predicts that by 2025, 45% of manufacturing jobs will be undertaken by robots.
AI in healthcare
Many areas of healthcare are already benefiting from AI. Artificial intelligence in healthcare can use AI algorithms to scan radiology images for cancerous tumors and can produce far more efficient readings than even the best radiologist. This technology has allowed doctors to shorten diagnostic timeframes, which means that patients can receive treatment much faster and subsequently have a higher chance of survival.
Within the healthcare industry, AI is being used to examine large datasets to understand and make informed decisions about diseases and help doctors create optimized treatment plans. Chatbots, in the form of Virtual Health Assistants, are also being employed to schedule appointments and reduce admin tasks at doctor offices. AI can even be used for at homecare services like reminding patients to take their medication, answer basic medical questions and call an ambulance in an emergency.
Artificial Intelligence in education
Schools and other learning environments are adopting AI to create personalized learning methods to assist students; especially those with learning disabilities. AI devices, like Intelligent Tutoring Systems, can analyze how the student processes and learn information. By using this information teachers can create a tailored plan to meet students learning needs. AI can also be used to streamline admin tasks, like grading papers, so teachers have more time to focus on what they do best.
As AI becomes integrated into more classrooms, the traditional classroom structure could be radically transformed. More efficient learning environments, tailored to meet each students’ unique needs, may soon be possible. Leading to a world, where every student gets the help they need to do their best.
Artificial Intelligence in banking & machine learning in finance
Machine learning algorithms can be used to detect and prevent credit card fraud. AI devices scan card transactions to identify an “abnormal” activity and flag anything out of the norm. This is why your card often gets declined if you try to use it overseas or to purchase a big-ticket item.
AI systems are far more capable than humans in their ability to accurately detect fraud as robots are experts at scanning large amounts of data. As this technology evolves, it should reduce the number of false declines which currently affect card users and businesses.
Financial service professionals can also use AI algorithms to conduct credit reports, process mortgage applications, manage money and transactions, and trade on the stock market. For example, Automated Trading Systems quickly analysis large amounts of data to create more in-depth and accurate insights into the stock market so that traders can make quicker decisions. Customers and accountants can access apps like Pegg to manage and automate financial transactions from any location, at any time.
Benefits of Artificial Intelligence
A few things to think about before hiring a robotic workforce
Like any emerging technology, AI and automation have a few drawbacks. One of the biggest barriers for SMEs when it comes to integrating this technology into their work processes is the initial cost. Some AI applications can be very expensive. However, as AI technology becomes more mainstream, costs should decrease, and specialist equipment should come with payment plan options.
Currently, AI and automation technology is also rather limited in capabilities. Robots are unable to handle complex human emotions, react appropriately to unexpected events or come up with creative solutions. As such, they’re not suitable for all business situations and companies should think carefully about how and where they use this technology. Most experts recommend striking a balance between robot and human employees, where robots are used to maximize and enhance humans’ current capabilities rather than entirely replace them.
Artificial Intelligence applications for businesses
With so many benefits, it’s not surprising that AI and automation is already being employed by many companies. One of the unique features of artificial intelligence is that it’s extremely flexible and can be used for nearly every purpose imaginable. So, how do companies currently employ the technology?
Research from Narrative Science shows that almost 25% of companies use AI applications for predictive analytics, while 22% use it for machine learning (an algorithm that allows devices to “learn” based on data). Other uses include natural language processing, voice recognition, virtual personal assistants and chatbots, and diagnostics.
Regardless of the size of your company, there are ways that you can integrate AI applications into your daily business practices, often for free or at little cost.
Platforms like Gmail use AI to give you reminders about emails that need to be followed up, while applications like MailChimp allows you to automate marketing campaigns and send tailored emails. The development of automated email platforms has dramatically changed the face of direct mail marketing and is an essential channel for any business to leverage.
Especially important if you manage a global team, Google Docs and GSuite allow teams to collaborate on and share live-updates of documents. With more flexibility and agility in collaboration on documents, this facilitates the growing trend of teams operating from remote locations.
HR departments can streamline the recruitment process with Applicant Tracking Systems like SmartRecruiters or Zoho. These systems can scan through job applications and CVs to select candidates with the right experience, skills and know-how, giving recruiters more time to focus on interviewing potential candidates and focusing on finding the perfect person to fill the vacancy.
Invoicing and online accounting
As any business owner knows, balancing the books and creating invoices can be a time-consuming process. Software like Sage Business Cloud Accounting can make the process easier by automatically creating invoices and quotes, reconciling your bank accounts and tracking expenses. Saving you valuable time, which can instead be spent on financial planning and strategy.
Automated process tools
If none of the above options suit you, then you can create your own. If This Then That (IFTTT) is a powerful tool which allows you to create your own automated process, also known as Applets. Applets pair a wide range of platforms with IFTTT to streamline nearly any task. For example, you can create an automated time tracking Applet, automatically save email attachments to Google Drive, log calls on Excel, and much more.
Task management tools, like Basecamp, Trello, and Google Calendar, have become an integral part of any busy business. Automated team management platforms like Asana, Slack and Sage Business Cloud People are quickly becoming included in this toolkit.
Asana helps manage remote teams by sending automated reminders and reports to keep everyone on the same page while Slack can automate team management tasks like scheduling team meetings or managing team communications. Sage Business Cloud People gives HR teams instant visibility into team performance so you can provide additional support when needed and address any potential issues before they become a problem.
Artificial Intelligence future in business
While many people worry that advancements in AI and automation technology will result in a loss of jobs, this isn’t necessarily the case. Companies that want to adopt a robotic workforce should think carefully about areas where the technology could have the greatest results. Instead of completely replacing all human employees, often the best approach involves a collaboration of both.
Robots should work alongside human employees to improve human capabilities and help us create a world where businesses and humans benefit. A world where companies can reduce costs while humans focus on more meaningful and exciting career opportunities. Freeing us all from the mundane admin tasks of our current roles.
Find out more about AI and automation technology
Take a closer look at the subject with our Artificial Intelligence in Business Handbook. Download it today.
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