For many business leaders, the idea of infusing artificial intelligence (AI) into their business doesn’t compute. The why, where and how to apply it often fails to add up for organizations that don’t have a strong technology infrastructure – and they are often not alone.
Recent survey data from McKinsey & Company, reported in a Harvard Business Review article on building the AI-powered organization, suggests that only eight percent of surveyed executives currently embrace the data analytics and technology that lead to AI innovation. That number is almost identical to the adoption rate of innovation as a business strategy, which HBR has quantified at roughly nine percent. We’ve addressed reasons why companies fail to innovate, but is there more to overcome when it comes to AI?
HOUSTON, WE HAVE A (PERCEPTION) PROBLEM
Perhaps part of the challenge with AI is in people’s nebulous perception of this technology.
We have to ask, can we blame those outside the technology ecosystem for not being excited about AI? Often times their perceptions are based on Hollywood science fiction nightmares (think angry robots rebelling in a dystopian world) or, more relatable, a dehumanizing way to trumpet progress and profits over people through automation? Let’s be honest, sometimes it only takes one viral video from Boston Dynamics to make us all a little bit nervous.
The further the boundaries get pushed on what could be, the more important it becomes to reel people back to the starting line and show what AI truly is: a data-driven approach to solving complex problems. Most commonly known for performing tasks that normally require human intelligence.
Through this lens, AI becomes less of an “either/or” proposition that pits humans against technological innovation. Instead it becomes a more symbiotic “both/and” opportunity that affords growth for employees, and the organizations they work for, through thoughtful technology advancements.
AI – A SIMPLE DEFINITION GEARED TOWARD SOLVING COMPLEX PROBLEMS
To embrace AI is to understand its problem-solving intent. A definition we embrace is, “the ability for machines to continuously perceive a context, infer meaning from it and then respond within that context.”
Here is an example, many of us are familiar with navigation apps such as Google Maps or Waze. Through artificial intelligence these platforms can perceive traffic in various locations, understand how the traffic will affect the driver’s route, and responds with things like: alternative routes, notifications recommending earlier departure, adjusted arrival times, etc. And with advances in artificial intelligence, Google is now talking about how they will be using computer vision technology to provide visual directions when following a route.
A component of perceiving and inferring requires what’s known as machine learning or deep learning. This is a problem-solving approach where computer programs learn from experience (data) for the purpose of modeling, prediction or control. We will have a dedicated blog on the topic of machine learning to help unpack what this other buzzword is all about.
WHY AI – AND IS IT FOR US?
Without a strong value proposition, AI becomes innovation merely for innovation’s sake, and that isn’t particularly helpful and certainly not profitable for business. When AI becomes a strategic endeavor, it helps organizations do three things:
Create better human-machine product experiences
AI empowers humans and machines to do what each does best. For example, machines are better used for crunching massive amounts of data, finding patterns in the data through algorithms, and automating tasks that are tedious but necessary. This gives humans the time to use their imagination and creativity, something that machines don’t have the ability to do.
Boost performance through more sophisticated and precise insights
AI affords a continuous pulse on incoming data where new and non-obvious intelligence can be plucked from large data sets. These critical insights enable greater product or service customization and personalization.
Accelerate development, automate the mundane, and tap human potential
When rote and repetitive activities can be automated, it frees up people to focus on activities that machines cannot do and adds more value to the organization. While some question if AI will eliminate jobs, which is possible, it will lead to new opportunities for employees to do different jobs that aren’t as physically demanding. In addition to the labor saving opportunities, AI will give people the freedom to do what they are uniquely good at, just like the industrial revolution and the assembly line has done. Individuals will be able to tap new skill sets and opportunities to create and oversee these automated processes.
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AI THAT IS ALREADY ENHANCING HUMAN EXPERIENCES
We’re all interacting with AI on a daily basis even if we don’t recognize it. Let’s see if these simple examples sound familiar:
Internet searches and Amazon purchases – with each entry, search or purchase we are providing machines with a personalized dataset to learn. As a result, we get recommendations (as well as ads) that are predictive of our search and purchasing habits, as well as from individuals who also have searched for or purchased similar items.
And while we’re sitting on the couch browing through Amazon, we can pull up our customized playlists on Spotify, curated like an old-school mixtape from a friend, but powered by AI and our digital listening .
Although we appreciate the cloud-centric applications there are many valuable solutions on the edge as well. Companies like Nest and Ring that offer doorbells with cameras are using edge AI to identify people and can even tell the difference between people and animals through their customized detection algorithms.
BREAKTHROUGHS IN THE FIELD & BEHIND THE PLATE
Right now agriculture crops – and the way they’re grown, harvested and tracked – are benefitting from AI. A Forbes article recently highlighted how two companies are using AI to monitor ripeness, soil and environmental conditions to cut down on herbicide use, and when and where produce was picked in the event of food recalls. Taken a step further, these companies are turning their AI insights to applied robotics that will help with the physically demanding work that fewer people want to engage in, while also getting fresh food to market faster.
Even Major League Baseball is getting into the AI game.
In a partnership with sports data firm TrackMan, MLB has developed a “digital strike zone” to bring consistency to the calling of balls and strikes only. Using AI, tracking is done with a signal behind home plate and in the press box, and an umpire receives the call in his Bluetooth-connected earpiece via his smartphone. The technology debuted for a full game at this year’s Atlantic League All-Star game, an independent professional league that is testing the AI technology and other game changes to speed up the game. A Washington Post article the following day summarized this historic AI-umpired baseball game, revealing what MLB leadership believed was necessary to evolve their game, as well as thoughts from the home plate umpire:
“I have seen this coming. It’s inevitable,” Atlantic League umpire Derek Moccia said. “The game is changing. Baseball needs to speed up to keep up with the world. And if you want to be on board with this, you have to keep up. The game is bigger than you, bigger than any player.”
While some have called and even feared the arrival of the “robot umpire” – the fact is it doesn’t replace the home plate umpire at all. It simply supplements the umpire’s ability to call a more accurate game.
Moccia’s deeply human and revealing statement is the same one that AI is making – there needs to be an ongoing pursuit to producing and providing a better end product. If you don’t, over time you’ll get left behind.
And that is every bit as relevant for business as it is for the game of baseball. Get ready, game on!