How Much Smarter Can the World Get – Demystifying AI

How Much Smarter Can the World Get – Demystifying AI



In any recent technology or business publication, Artificial Intelligence – broadly referred to as AI – will stand out as one of the most debated topics. Visionaries like Elon Musk and Steven Hawking warn of the dangers of AI while institutions like Gartner claim it to be one of the top 10 industry trends to watch for the next decade. Like many powerful technologies, it is indisputable that AI shows great potential – yet, the dramatic and mixed headlines pertaining to this topic leave businesses rather confused. Recent developments in the field make it even more relevant for businesses to understand and embrace this phenomenon. But what exactly hides behind the AI acronym and which uplifting role can it play in the business world?

Understanding AI

One of the main difficulties in comprehending the importance of AI lies in its notoriously challenging definition. If it was not abstract enough, the concept tends to be associated with a variety of other trendy buzzwords such as machine learning, big data and robotics, without a clear distinction. Basically put, AI boils down to two fundamental notions: general vs. narrow Artificial Intelligence.
Artificial general Intelligence refers to the capability of a computer to do anything a human being can. We are basically alluding here to human level intelligence. Narrow Artificial Intelligence, or “specialized AI”, in contrast, refers to the idea that a machine performs what a human can do but confined to specific – within narrow bounds. Within these bounds computers will often be more accurate than their human counterpart, and usually a thousand or even a million times faster. This has long been true for basic tasks such as performing calculations, but it is becoming reality for more complex and “human” actions such as face recognition – Facebook’s DeepFace algorithm can now recognize more reliably than humans can whether two photos feature the same person. It is this characteristic that conveys the technology its incredible potential.

AI has a massive impact on consumers as well as society as a whole.

While industry observers may indulge in endless debates on whether – or rather when – human level Artificial Intelligence will ever become reality, they will be outpaced by the eruption of specialized AI into almost every imaginable product or service.

Everything and Everyone Get Smarter

Whether it is your smartphone giving you movie recommendations based on voice commands, or Snapchat magically mapping realistic (or unrealistic) looking filters onto your face and turning you into a unicorn, AI has made quantum leaps in recent years and keeps improving at an increasing rate. Numerous new tools, products, or services building on the AI momentum get announced every week. Novel applications can now simultaneously translate conversations between people in up to 9 different languages and Google’s new Autodraw experiment enables novice artists to draw great looking illustrations. On top of these customer-facing applications, many businesses started leveraging AI services behind the scenes. According to a recent study, IT and Marketing departments are among the heaviest users of AI and beneficiaries of these technologies. Chatbots are one prominent example, combining a common customer interface such as Facebook Chat with considerable number-crunching to identify and satisfy customer desires. This enables businesses to serve their customers more efficiently while exceeding prior service levels by offering the right information to the customer almost instantaneously.
The first wave of AI finding its way into business applications has been through automation of bundles of tasks that humans then no longer needed to do. However, building these applications into workflows required highly specialized knowledge and very large up-front investments in technology. This is now changing dramatically with the emergence of “AI as a Service”.

AI as a Service

In recent years, servers have slowly but surely “moved” to the cloud with offers such as Amazon Web Services, enabling companies to quickly set up new processes while only paying for what they need as they scale up.
A similar development is occurring with AI. More and more services enabling companies to use pre-programmed, cloud-hosted algorithms on-demand are starting to see the light. Businesses will be able to leverage these services with increasing ease, reducing the need for coding-skills and initial investments. Just as with server storage, this will lead to a shift from fixed to variable costs that scale with demand. We will continue to see a rise in new startups as barriers to entry into high-tech-markets are torn down.
As computing power continues to get cheaper – especially in the low-end – and an increased number of products get connected to the internet, this will accelerate AI progression, turning most of physical products into smarter and more capable entities.

What does this mean for companies?

As more services are developed and physical products connect to the web, more and more human tasks can be substituted by AI. This technological revolution has massive implications for consumers as well as society as a whole. In the business world, three macro developments stand out and need to be embraced:

  • AI is coming into reach for (almost) everyone
    Truly scalable AI will mean more businesses and individuals within companies get to make use of the efficiencies and new possibilities it unlocks.
  • As everything gets smart, business models need to adapt
    New businesses will emerge, offering new services in our industries. Many opportunities arise to offer new or better products and services to customers. Companies need to think harder about what they should automate to generate added value for their business.
  • Job skills need to evolve
    As more and more tasks get automated, the role of many employees will change. All jobs will not be made redundant through automation. However, human labour will be increasingly focused on understanding problems, demonstrating creativity, and asking the right questions.

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