Artificial Intelligence: Assistant, not Overlord
DECEMBER 28, 2016
Today’s tech buzzword, Artificial Intelligence (AI), can be a difficult concept for many people to wrap their heads around. AI technology, which arguably holds vast potential to revolutionize the way the world works, is nonetheless often used to paint an apocalyptic view of the future. We now live in a world where talking computers and self-driving cars are no longer a thing of the future – but are we also at risk of developing computers so smart that they can replace humans? Influential tech figures such as Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have cautioned the industry against diving head-on into AI – because the technology’s implementation could do more harm than good if we aren’t careful.
While there’s no arguing that some of the cautionary tales around AI hold merit, our current reality is far from the robot-run society we’ve seen in the movies. In fact, AI has the potential to drive the kind of real business results – in terms of cost savings and innovation – that will impact companies and their customers in a positive way. The truth is that, at its core, AI is a series of mathematical equations and algorithms that require human training. Meaning that AI is only as smart as what you teach it, and the best application for AI is automating tasks that are tedious for humans and finding patterns that deliver insights from the vast quantities of data companies receive everyday. It is a tool for businesses to handle parts of their organization with more speed and efficiency, while freeing up a company’s most valuable assets – its employees – to tackle more complex tasks.
That’s why, in board rooms across the country, senior executives are having conversations centering around one question: “What’s our AI strategy?” Because this once-futuristic technology is here – today – and company leaders need to know how to respond. The good news is that there are already some shining examples in industries that demonstrate how humans and AI technologies can work as complements to each other. In fact, when done well, AI is the perfect assistant that can help humans be more productive and actually get more fulfillment from the work they do.
One of the most elegant examples of man and robot working in harmony is in the build of the C7 Corvette Z06 engine. GM craftsmen assemble these engines by hand, while robots and automated intelligent machines play the role of assistant by taking on the challenging portions of this precise build that would be too time-consuming or even impossible for a human to accomplish alone. The men and women hand-building these engines rely on their robot counterparts to produce an engine worthy of their name (they actually add their names to all final engines): finely tuned and capable of exceptional performance. This is a tangible example of how combining the craftsmanship of a human with the efficiency of a machine can lead to a superior product. Corvette buyers know that they are getting the best engine on the market. And the Corvette brand continues to build its already robust reputation as a company that is capable of improving efficiencies with AI without losing the human touch.
The Corvette example is just one of many across multiple industries capable of leveraging efficiencies through the combination of human workers and AI technologies. These include:
Everyone knows what it’s like to encounter an automated robot when calling a customer service number, and the experience is usually the same: we select a series of options from a preset menu, get stuck in the wrong queue and end up yelling ‘AGENT’ into the phone until connected with a live person. AI, however, has enabled significant advancements in customer care within the past few years – improving everything from the way the automated system speaks to customers (no more ‘robot-sounding voice on the other end of the phone) to the level of understanding and accuracy these systems can provide. Today, companies have the option to utilize Virtual Assistant solutions that allow customers to have a back-and-forth conversation with an automated system, leading to positive interactions and ultimately, greater brand affinity.
Speech recognition and natural language processing have made it possible for organizations to handle more customer interactions through automation – where appropriate. By automating the types of transactions that are best suited for self-service, companies can free up their highly trained live agents to handle more complex tasks more efficiently and effectively.
When you’re dealing with logistics planning at the scale of a company like UPS, or even your cable provider, the thought of tackling a plan by hand seems downright unreasonable. AI makes these painstaking and laborious tasks – ones that are easily prone to errors – nearly seamless. For example, instead of calling to report a job is ‘complete,’ a technician in the field can simply use an automated voice report to complete this task, while being simultaneously directed to the next job. Automated technology has helped companies like this in many areas, including billing, logistics, and reporting.
In addition, companies like DHL are testing collaborative robots that aid workers within warehouses with repetitive and physically demanding tasks.
Doctors and nurses have been using speech recognition technology incorporated with their EHR for several years now. While this might seem like old news, the proof point of using AI to help us do jobs better is never more apparent than it is in healthcare.
If a doctor can spend more time with a patient, diagnosing problems and researching and less time writing prescriptions and taking notes, we all win. But it doesn’t end with transcription. In healthcare, there is a tremendous opportunity for AI to help doctors diagnose, access more historical knowledge and background on a patient and, most importantly, it can free up time for them to research cures that would not have been made possible without technology.
AI is a complex topic, and one that will continue to spur caution and conversation for many years to come. But even as we consider it, AI is already driving positive and tangible outcomes for companies across industries, illustrating daily how machines and humans can achieve more together.
It’s a thrilling proposition, but artificial intelligence and “robot overlords” aren’t synonymous. If AI must be personified, let’s call it our assistant.