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Artificial Intelligence: Impacting Businesses!

AI can solve problems but only when entrepreneurs and businessmen know how to best implement such a technology in the real world

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Whether Artificial Intelligence ('AI') will have an effect on businesses is not in dispute anymore. In the last 10 years we have gone from the first true smartphone being launched by Steve Jobs to now it being the platform on which billion dollar companies like Uber and WeChat are built. AI is having its iPhone moment today and we can only speculate what the billion dollar companies built on AI will look like.

Just like the smartphone, AI is not sector or business specific and this is evident from the fact that major companies today are making diverse applications of AI possible across the spectrum. A McKinsey report notes that in 2017 alone, tech giants have spent close to USD 30 billion on AI R&D and another USD 10 billion in acquiring AI companies. Google has gone so far that it has now started to call itself an AI first company and their current CEO Sundar Pichai has bet the entire company's future on their AI operations.

It is true that tech companies are the favourite for investors when looking to invest in AI oriented companies, however it will be interesting to note that the media industry comes a close second.Back in 2015, AP launched a bot that writes news briefs based on earnings reports. This bot went on to write more than 3000 reports in just one quarter. Since then,  numerous similar domain specific AI powered automations have been launched, like  a grammar checker (Grammarly), an image manipulator that crops and removes shadows and  the Google Sheets which lets you query tables using natural language. Yet these applications are still in the digital domain, the true reach of AI will be realized when it is applied to the physical world.

China has a grand example of AI assisting humans in the physical world with automated surveillance systems. Entire metropolitan areas have cameras that can track every vehicle and pedestrian. They can even track when any traffic infraction is made and with their ability to read number plates, a challan being issued to the infractor is just one click away. These advances are also beginning to reach the agriculture and manufacturing sectors. AI systems can already sort fruits and vegetables by quality and freshness. Implementations are already being done and planned to bring these to construction and food processing. There are also numerous breakthroughs in medical imagery, like AI reaching better-than-human precision identifying cancerous cells, which can effectively help us look for solutions that we didn't have before. AI is enabling less skilled medical practitioners, in remote areas, to access advanced diagnostic tools which will help them provide better healthcare facilities, more efficiently and in lesser amounts of time.

These intelligent and automated machines are able to offer much more reliable, relevant, and efficient support in an instant, effectively removing the need to have humans. Autonomous vehicles and other delivery systems like trucks and drones are also becoming extremely popular. Uber and Waymo are already running autonomous taxis, and autonomous trucks for the freight industry is just around the corner. These systems are not just targeted at reducing risks but also to ensure a seamless transportation method, with reductions in costs and delays.

But does the integration of AI into business mean that humans will lose their jobs? Definitely. Jobs like customer service,  sales and support, and even some manufacturing roles will see AI powered machines take over. History is a witness that adoption of superior and disruptive technology has not come without challenges or costs. People afraid of losing their jobs and livelihood have been the first ones to protest such adoption. The recent job cuts in numerous IT companies in India is a hard truth pointing to this direction.
This begs the question - what do we, as humans, do to prepare for this technological revolution? A lot of repetitive jobs will be lost but at the same time a lot impactful jobs will be created, some that we cannot even imagine today Who would have guessed 10 years ago that people will make a living by driving their own car and picking up neighbours (Ola/Uber), or voicing their opinions to the world (YouTube).

Even with new job categories, unskilled workers, who are the most prone to be affected by such a change, will need to be retrained. Governments must focus on jobs revolving around human-to-human interaction or human services, as these will remain relatively stable. Most skilled sectors like healthcare, education and legal services, will certainly see huge productivity gains with the AI adoption but will still need people for their judgement and supervision.

The possible ubiquity of AI might seem impractical today, but so did the first iPhone to the then Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. AI will certainly be a defining force in the next decade and longer, the best way to reap the benefits it is to keep an open mind and exploit our expertise and network to make the most out of it. AI can solve problems but only when entrepreneurs and businessmen know how to best implement such a technology in the real world.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Madhav Bhagat

The author is Co-Founder & CTO, SpotDraft

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