Go ahead: give yourself a pat on the back. You’ve been doing a great job with big data. You’re collecting and analyzing customer information, gleaning insights into what customers want and need, and acting on those insights. For the first time ever, you’re able to position products to respond to customers’ greatest needs — and you know it’s working, because you’re collecting data that proves it. You’re way ahead of most of your peers in deriving real value from big data.
But you’re not done yet.
If you want to stay competitive as data growth continues to skyrocket, you’re going to have to do much more to get the maximum value from the customer data you’re collecting.
And to do it, you’re going to need artificial intelligence – AI.
AI: Doing What You’re Doing on a Much Bigger Scale
There’s so much data being created — 44 zettabytes by 2020, according to IDC. The teams of data analysts that companies rely on today to uncover meaning simply can’t keep pace with the growth. In a prescient report issued several years ago, McKinsey Global Institute predicted a shortage of just this kind of talent by 2018.
That’s where AI comes in.
Also known as machine learning, AI adds an intelligence layer to big data to tackle complex analytical tasks much faster than humans could ever hope to. It will ultimately more than compensate for the shortage of analytical resources we are facing today.
This has some people concerned about the impact on the workforce, especially after a 2013 Oxford University study found that AI could soon take over nearly half of all US jobs. Others take the more optimistic view that there will always be work for good critical thinkers, no matter how smart machines get.
The Smarter, the Better
What’s especially exciting about AI, compared to robots and other forms of advanced technology, is that it is by definition a kind of intelligence — and therefore not just a set of systems that react the way humans have programmed them to. AI can, as Wikipedia describes, actually perceive its environment and take actions.
Because AI is intelligence incarnate, it’s capable of what researchers call “deep learning.” Instead of telling machines what to do, we let them figure it out for themselves based on the data we give them. And ultimately, they tell us what to do.
That’s what’s got Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk worried — the idea that AI could lead to thinking machines that will eventually surpass humans, take over the world, and threaten our very existence as know it. On the other hand, you have someone like Shivon Zilis with the perspective that AI today is actually doing things like “protecting children from sex trafficking, reducing the chemical content in the lettuce we eat, helping us buy shoes online that fit our feet precisely…”
When AI Meets Big Data, Look Out
It’s clear just looking at Zilis’ examples that AI is fascinating and life-changing on its own. And big data, too, has incredible potential power on its own. But together, these two fields are poised to change business and industry forever.
We’re already seeing just how transformative the combination of AI and big data can be in the financial industry, where AI has had a major impact on how the stock market works. As the mathematical models the industry uses to predict market shifts have synthesized more and data over time, they’ve become smarter — to the point where some believe they will eventually be able to accurately predict both market trends and human influences on the market.
Watch for some big movement in the coming year as the two technologies continue to mature to the point where they can work together and create real-world solutions. Meanwhile, you can start brushing up on your understanding of AI. Consider getting better acquainted with the subject at two upcoming conferences:
- The Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) will hold its Twenty-Ninth Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Austin, Texas, USA, January 25–29, 2015
- The International Joint Conferences on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI) will hold IJCAI-15 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, July 25-31, 2015
Not able to travel to an event? There’s plenty to learn online. Here are just a few valuable articles to help you understand where AI and big data are headed together:
- “How Artificial Intelligence Could Change Your Business,” Forbes
- “4 Big Opportunities in Artificial Intelligence,” Inc.
- “Artificial Intelligence is Changing the World, and Humankind Must Adapt,” Wired
Imagine if you could leverage big data and AI to improve your own business or your life in general: what would you want it to do? Scientists continue to create amazing technologies in laboratories. But it’s going to take the imagination of people in real-world companies to help turn those amazing technologies into practical platforms that will change our professional and private lives for the better.