By now you’ve heard that Artificial Intelligence is poised to either destroy civilization as we know it or miraculously solve all of society’s problems. If you’re a fan of films like 2015’s Ex Machina or the HBO series Westworld, you’ll be forgiven for believing that intelligent machines will inevitably lead to a dystopian nightmare. It’s also unlikely that AI will result in a nirvana of synthetic emotional intimacy or effortless commutes any time soon either. The truth about AI, as with most things, lies somewhere between doomsday and panacea.
In the near term, AI’s greatest potential to affect our lives is in the one place most of us find ourselves every day — at work. These are the five AI trends that will have the greatest impact on the workplace in the near term.
1. Wrangling big data
Data is the grey matter for AI, so for machine learning to succeed it needs access to lots and lots of information. With big data expected to grow to 44 zettabytes of storage by 2020, information is no longer a barrier. That means fragmentation is the remaining enemy of AI. With traditional stack vendors continually adding new tools to their suites and conversational apps siloing information in a mishmash of narrowing message threads, getting at that data is becoming more challenging than ever. Forward-looking organizations are using connected hub solutions and open APIs to unlock that data so future AI systems can get at it.
2. Making your company smarter with “dumb” things: The IoT
Today, there are nearly twice as many “dumb devices” connected to the Internet as there are people on the planet. By 2020, that number is expected to triple. McKinsey estimates that within the next decade the Internet of Things (IoT) could create more than $11 trillion dollars annually in global economic value. Along with that flood of cash will be an unprecedented deluge of data. It will be up to AI to make sense of all of that information, but it’s people who will decide how to deal with it. The benefits of the IoT for business are pretty straightforward. For instance, sensors might determine that a customer needs a replacement part, so your sales team will reach out and sell them an upgrade. Internally, the IoT has the potential to deliver even greater business value.
3. Gaining competitive advantage with predictive analytics
Today, capturing information within a company is easy, but gaining insights from the interactions between that information and the systems and people that rely on it is where AI will really begin living up to its lofty promises. As employees move away from routine tasks toward more agile work, processes will become increasingly nimble too. Predictive analytics can take the pressure off by not only contextually serving up the right information at the right time, but by identifying amplifiers, drivers, and experts from across organizations, regardless of role or location.
4. Uncovering valuable insights with the work graph
Decision-making is the next evolution of enterprise AI, but don’t look for the self-aware, vengeance-seeking androids of film; this new era will be all about the work graph. A hub that captures the conversations, content, sentiment, and actions of individuals, groups and teams across multiple collaboration tools will allow predictive analytics to do its stuff. Only when leaders gain insight into those dynamic relationships will they be free to focus on the non-routine tasks that will propel their organizations into the future. Expect to hear a lot more about the work graph in the coming months and years.
5. Increasing efficiencies with interactivity
Voice assistants like Amazon’s Echo are all the rage for consumers, but, as Mary Meeker noted in her most recent Internet Trends report, speech recognition technology is ready for the office as well. In fact, don’t be surprised if voice-first becomes the next big interface for business. Soon you’ll be ordering your very own AI assistant to prioritize your meetings, organize your inbox, and create content, all without clicking on a mouse, typing on keyboard or swiping a touchscreen. Be on the lookout for virtual reality to invade the workplace as well. Once presumed to be strictly for gaming, VR is finding plenty of use cases in business. AI-powered VR systems will allow customers to try before they buy, speed employee onboarding, and supercharge innovation by allowing experts to interact with would-be products while they’re still in the conception stage.
While today’s AI is more likely to recommend nail-biting films about AI to your Netflix queue than to unleash the robot apocalypse, its expectations for business (if not yet its advantages) are high. A well-thought-out strategy will be key to unlocking the benefits we’ve planned for, rather than the consequences we haven’t.
John Schneider is VP of Product Strategy at Jive Software.
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