If AI is rolled out to rapidly and irresponsibly its benefits could actually cause far reaching consequences for millions.
AI has been named as one of the most important emerging trends in business technology for 2017 in a report by Accenture, but are we ready for it?
The report, Technology Vision, is a yearly look at the biggest trends in business for the coming year. The 2017 iteration has named AI as one of the principle changes that will shape the landscape in business for years to come.
AI itself has become increasingly more prevalent in the world and as we move closer towards self driving cars and responsive voice commands for our smart homes, its importance cannot be understated. The more integrated artificial intelligence becomes in our daily lives, the more businesses should strive to adopt it into their operations, though they should be mindful of its potential consequences.
Accenture believe that AI has the potential to become a ‘spokesperson’ for a business, even becoming more recognisable than the brand itself. As AI replaces interfaces and reshapes interactions with customers it will become a representative of businesses image as a whole.
Amazon Echo is a great example. Now used in more than 3 million homes, the ‘Smart Speaker’ utilises an AI known as Alexa in an effort to streamline home living. The device is capable of enhancing customer experiences by giving access to weather and traffic reports as well as offering the ability to order much of Amazon’s listings just by talking to it.
Paul Daugherty, Accenture chief technology & innovation officer said: “As technology transforms the way we work and live, it raises important societal challenges and creates new opportunities. Ultimately, people are in control of creating the changes that will affect our lives, and we’re optimistic that responsive and responsible leaders will ensure the positive impact of new technologies.”
The Technology Vision Survey of over 5,000 IT and business executives revealed that over 79% believe that AI will help accelerate technology adoption, with a further 85% stating that they would be making extensive investments into the technology over the next three years.
Current examples of AI being utilised outside of consumer applications include the Rhizabot, an AI program which can translate complex business analysis questions, alleviating the need to create simplified and easily translatable phrases that may not be sufficient. In agriculture also, farmers have been using AI crop management tools that allow machines to learn how best to tend crops, whether through increased water and fertiliser supply or removing sprouts that will hinder the growth of others.
Accenture estimates that in 5 years customers will be less impressed with brands and place much more stock in how well the AI interface functions. In 7 years most interfaces will have moved beyond screens and become integrated into daily tasks, and in 10 years they predict that AI assistants will be so intertwined with day to day tasks that they will maintain constant productivity through outlets such as creating video summaries immediately after meetings.
However, this rapid integration and expansion of AI throughout the business world could have a serious domino effect. For instance, if certain positions can be phased out in favour of increasingly more advanced AI, it has the potential to create serious economic inequality. Because the AI requires no compensation for its time, the potential profit for its service will be disseminated throughout a smaller number of people.
Recently, Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, suggested that should robots supplant humans in the workplace they should be taxed as a human would.
In an interview with Quartz, Gates said: “Right now, the human worker who does, say, $50,000 worth of work in a factory, that income is taxed and you get income tax, Social Security tax, all those things. If a robot comes in to do the same thing, you’d think that we’d tax the robot at a similar level.”
The billionaire philanthropist believes that the income tax made from robots could be used to support social systems and train others in more skilled labour in response to growing automation.
As more and more tasks become automated it seems inevitable that an AI could eventually be used to replace a customer service line, or a call centre. Amazon’s Alexa is just one of many AI’s that use continual physical interactions and cloud learning to improve it’s own speech patterns and usability constantly. During initial tests Alexa’s response time was three seconds, too long for a sufficient conversation, since then Amazon has managed to reduce that time to under 1.5 seconds.
Will we see rapid growth in unemployment if Artificial Intelligence is rolled out irresponsibly? If self driving technology can ever be applied to heavy goods vehicles it could very well put millions of truck drivers out of work worldwide.
Emma McGuigan at Accenture said that lorry drivers are a long way from being replaced, so that is not an immediate concern. She believes that AI will cause a disruption in the business world, but that disruption will be a net positive. Accenture introduced AI into it’s India business but rather than leave many unemployed it actually allowed 20,000 people to be redeployed to other tasks where a human touch is necessary,
She said: “I don’t think the pace of AI will affect work, I think it will actually increase it.”
For many the concept of integrated Artificial Intelligence seems to be a question of when and not if, so as the business world moves forward it’s important to ensure that this technology is implemented in a safe and secure way that maximises benefit for businesses, employee, and consumer alike.