In 2017, MITSloan Management Review (MIT SMR) conducted a global survey of more than 3,000 executives, managers, and analysts on the current state of AI and the potential that exists. The results reveal that there’s still a significant “gap between ambition and execution.”
Three out of four executives believe that AI will allow their companies to move into new business ventures, while 85 percent feel as though AI will give their companies the opportunity to sustain a competitive advantage. Yet, despite these results, less than 20 percent of companies had actually incorporated AI into their processes and/or product offerings at the time of the survey. Just 39 percent of companies have an AI strategy in place; those that do tend to be the largest (100,000 employees or more).
“Our research reveals large gaps between today’s leaders – companies that already understand and have adopted AI – and laggards. One sizeable difference is their approach to data,” MIT SMR explains, referring to the fact that AI algorithms aren’t intuitive and “intelligent.” In order to get the most out of AI, businesses have to collect, organize, and feed data so that the AI can grow, improve, and become useful.
“Our research surfaced several misunderstandings about the resources needed to train AI,” MIT SMR continues. “The leaders not only have a much deeper appreciation about what’s required to produce AI than laggards, they are also more likely to have senior leadership support and have developed a business case for AI initiatives.”
The good news is that we’re making significant progress. As recently as 2015, studies showed that 34 percent of the marketplace feared AI, with those in business services ranking even higher than the average. When asked about AI in relation to business, very few companies were actually using AI at the time, and only seven percent planned on implementing it within the next year. While one in four businesses were evaluating how to apply it to their business, 49 percent had no plans for any use of AI in the future.
When you look at the current state of AI in business, it’s clear that we’ve come a long way. The more light we shed on the misunderstandings, the more positive development we can expect to see in this area. While we still aren’t where industry insiders might like to be, the gap is closing between ambition and execution.
3 ways businesses are using AI
Businesses that are executing on their AI ambitions are doing so in a variety of ways. Let’s check out a few of the top applications:
Streamlined customer service
In an ultra-connected marketplace where customers expect to be able to communicate with businesses whenever, wherever, and however they wish, customer service is becoming a huge challenge. Just ask the National Health Services (NHS) in the UK.
The NHS is currently testing an AI-powered chatbot on its non-emergency helpline. People can opt to interact with the chatbot, as opposed to talking to a person, then enter their symptoms into the app. The app then consults a large medical database and provides responses tailored to the information provided. The goal is to reduce the pressure of call volume during the winter months.
While many patients have criticized the NHS chatbot, it’s easy to see the potential that exists for businesses in other industries. By streamlining customer service and automating the first point of contact, companies can devote more human resources to the most important issues and concerns.
Cybersecurity can sometimes steal the spotlight, but business owners know how important physical security is as well. IP camera technology is advancing and we’re seeing how transformative AI can be in this area.
AI researchers have been hard at work, developing algorithms that can look at an image and tell what it depicts. In the world of security, this comes in the form of surveillance-based facial recognition.
As Quartz Media explains, the U.S. government already uses this technology. At one point last year, the New York department of motor vehicles had already made more than 4,000 arrests with the assistance of facial recognition, which allowed law enforcement to access driver’s license photos. As the technology improves and AI algorithms get better, the belief is that businesses could actually identify individual people in security footage in real time.
Industrial businesses are currently gaining the most from AI. Just look at BP, which is augmenting human skills with AI in an effort to improve operations in the field.
“We have something called the BP well advisor,” BP’s Ahmed Hashmi tells MIT SMR, “that takes all of the data that’s coming off of the drilling systems and creates advice for the engineers to adjust their drilling parameters to remain in the optimum zone and alerts them to potential operational upsets and risks down the road.”
Hashmi says BP is also hard at work automating root-cause failure analysis, so the system trains itself over time and quickly moves from description to prediction to prescription.
AI in the years to come
This year marks a pivotal point in the timeline of business-side AI adoption. The early indicators are that businesses are finally recognizing the value of AI, consumers are getting over their fears, and leading businesses are implementing strategies that allow them to leverage advanced technology.
Expect significant evolution on this topic throughout the calendar year and don’t be surprised if the business world looks a little different come December 2018.
Larry Alton is a contributing writer at VentureBeat covering artificial intelligence.