Those who joined multinationals in the 1980s may recall their job training procedures involved a new technology called ‘Artificial Intelligence’ (AI). It was alien to the traditional classroom lectures that introduced and indoctrinated newbies into an existing corporate culture. It was self-guided and required familiarity with the then-revolutionary desktop computer. Brave. New. World. Actually, early AI performed basic algorithms and was only as good as the limitations of the platforms of the day, not the imaginations of its investors and developers. Therefore, thirty-five years ago, AI promised much, but sadly, seldom delivered on its promises. Since the technology that supported it was just not as advanced as the ideas that fueled its proponents, quickly, for most of us, AI became a tool of the past. Recently however, AI is undergoing a renaissance, and for some an introduction. Here’s how that’s coming about and what to expect from AI this time around.

What exactly is AI? Funny you should ask…Loosely defined, all living creatures have the ability to think, they have an INTELLIGENCE. This intellect is juxtaposed with a machine, which may be designed and built to perform a function, such as a dispense a Lotto ticket when money is inserted into its slot. The machine does not voluntarily think its own thoughts. (If it did it would likely keep all the winning lottery tickets for itself!) Therefore, just as in the saying, ‘art follows life’, artificial intelligence is the ability for a machine or thing to be programmed to function as a person thinks. For some this means developing a program that anticipates our needs then fulfills them.

AI Solves More Advanced Problems

Unlike early AI, thanks to vastly improved infrastructure speeds, their worldwide accessibility, and efficiencies of scale, today’s AI outcomes allow for more nimble algorithms to deftly solve far more advanced problems. Accordingly, over the past couple of years the ‘Coming of Age of AI’ stories have resurged. Basically, there is a lot of technological coat tailing in an attempt to hitch a ride on the AI bandwagon. Not every technological innovation is even remotely connected to AI but you cannot blame start-ups and entrepreneurs for trying to grab some free publicity, can you? Soon, if not already, AI is expected to permeate every aspect of our lives, and, hopefully for the better. So where can you expect to find ‘authentic’ AI working behind the scenes to make all of our lives better?

These paragons of technology have already surfaced in our homes and offices, such as smart assistants (Siri on our phones and Personal Assistants like Amazon’s Echo, Facebook Portal, Sonos One, Apple HomePod, and Google Home). Existing new and old technologies such as the automobile are utilizing AI to attain ‘next level’ status as seen in driverless cars. We already have models that can park themselves so…ready or not, here they come!

A primary source has and will likely remain the online retail experience. If you found it easy to locate and purchase an obscure product you have enhanced browsing, courtesy of AI, to thank. As mentioned above, if you and your family already love Siri to order pizza and make sure your house is locked-up tight, you are just gonna worship her after her face lift. The future of personal assistants will make them indispensable to every member of the family 24/7/365. (No, she will not be allowed to take your Regents exams for you!) Thanks to AI, in the field of medical diagnostics beneficial and potentially lifesaving advances are being made. It is projected that earlier detection of many diseases will reduce their high mortality rates. Another field that will likely benefit from advanced artificial intelligence technologies is fraud detection and its abatement.

Harvest AI Data for Profit

There are also so many ways in which AI can be utilized for profit. Nearly every business is sitting on data that it can harvest to possibly benefit another industry. This cash crop of metrics can be sold to provide information vital to another company’s growth. For example, statistics that are captured by a supplier relative to a vendor/customer’s distribution chain could lead to more cost-effective (therefore money-saving) procedural updates and upgrades. For many firms, reducing the cost of doing business is as good as a revenue increase anyday!

If all this putting ideas into action via machines is starting to sound a little too, “Big Brother is watching you” to you, well, yes, yes, it is. That is why AI’s global adoption is already being legislated towards its transparency. The General Data Protection Regulation of 2019 has already been adopted in Europe and the U.S. will likely join the party soon. Artificial Intelligence transparency means we must be allowed full access and knowledge to whatever AI is using our personal data for, connections it makes utilizing that data, and avoidance of biased decisions. Ethics will play a pivotal role in how AI is used by certain influencers such as governments here and abroad, to cover a wide range of concerns from ensuring protection for the rights of individuals to trade alliance negotiations.

An additional concern regarding the use of AI is the fear that jobs will be lost. Since a major aspect of AI is process automation, yes this is certainly true. One industry that is taking a hit is Finance. Given the rise of online banking even wholly online banks, the need for front and back office personnel is decreasing. However, all is not bleak as it seems. According to Gartner, the world’s leading business advisory firm, (as noted in a recent Forbes article) that in 2019 some 1.8 million jobs will be lost to automation (evidenced by the recent layoffs at major automotive plants and factories) some 2.3 million new positions will be available. The difference here is that the manufacturing jobs lost are unskilled labor while the new openings are for skilled labor, said to be in healthcare, education, and positions with the national, state, and local government.

To summarize: AI’s scope is extremely broad. If you think about it, there are few, if any industries or processes where artificial intelligence cannot be applied to improve its functionality or increase its benefits. One thing is certain: for software developers and designers, their current and next wave of innovation is AI-based. For the rest of us, our lives are about to be bombarded with new conveniences we never thought possible until one day they were! So to answer the question, “Why AI, why now?” -Why not!