Electricity was possibly humanity’s greatest invention to date and changed life as we knew it. Fast forward to 125 years in the present and, we find ourselves at the cusp of another similar technological singularity, courtesy of Artificial Intelligence (AI). While the concept of AI has been around at least since the 1950s, there are a number of reasons to believe that AI’s time to shine is now. Technological advancements and the evolution of technology’s entire ecosystem have led to the rise of key trends that form the foundation on which AI can thrive.
Digital business transformation
Business models are transforming to include new avenues of creating value and revenue streams. Legacy modernization is key to unlocking these new avenues because the data that used to sit locked in monolith systems is now being unleashed - the systems are either being broken down or replaced in the new digital era.
Today data creation is at an unprecedented rate of approximately 2.5 quintillion bytes of data/day. Humans’ constant back and forth with machines is changing the relationship, making it easier for people to embrace AI (Google Maps, Alexa, etc.) into daily lives.
Cost and ease of storage are ensuring that no byte of information need ever be deleted. Add to this, the shift to Open Source technologies that reduce barriers to adoption and, we have access to algorithms and tools that can work on the inexhaustible data.
The journey ahead
Given AI’s potential to impact the future and change the course of history (like electricity did), it’s imperative for organizations to evaluate their relationship with, investments in and plans to incorporate AI into their business.
A McKinsey Quarterly report suggests that firms with a strong digital foundation find it easier to assimilate AI and its set of technologies and tools into their business. Organizations will also need a strategic approach to data (more than investing in a few dashboards). A proactive data acquisition mindset will ensure the right data gives organizations a competitive advantage.
Businesses will have to embrace an experimentative approach when adopting AI. To use Pedro Domingos’ (author of The Master Algorithm) analogy, “make a hypothesis, collect data, refine the hypothesis and repeat.” Such an approach will cultivate hybrid teams with unconventional skill sets (psychologists, linguists, etc.), will encourage non-deterministic thinking and choose problems that benefit from an AI-first strategy. And, its success in pockets across the business should be quickly followed by scaling AI adoption across organizational functions.
Given this irrefutable future of AI and its potential impact on humankind, I’d like to leave you with a few musings. How will the relationship between humans and machines evolve? Will it be the inevitable battle to the death that all sci-fi movies proport or a symbiotic coexistence. As latest findings (AlphaGo and AlphaGo Zero) have shown we may not even understand how machine ‘minds’ think and operate - are we comfortable in such a world? Finally, given that AI will gradually replace more human tasks, are we looking at technological unemployment leading to more creative, empathy driven jobs for people or will AI simply be the last human invention?
Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.