In case you haven’t heard AI is making a big impact in the business world and is becoming more mainstream. However, for most CEOs and business leaders, it’s still not clear exactly what AI is and how it can be used effectively.

What is AI?

At its core, Artificial Intelligence is “computers acting intelligently”. It’s a branch of computer science that deals with algorithms inspired by various facets of natural intelligence, which includes performing tasks that normally get assigned to people, like understanding language, recognizing objects in photos, learning, and problem-solving.

Research and development work in AI is split between two branches. One is labelled “applied AI” which uses the principles of simulating human thought to carry out one specific task. The other is known as “generalized AI” – which seeks to develop machine intelligences that can turn their hands to any task, much like a person.

How is it being used effectively?

In the business world, “applied AI” is being utilized by many sectors – the financial sector uses range from fraud detection to improving customer service by predicting what services customers will need. In manufacturing, it’s used to manage workforces and production processes as well as for predicting faults before they occur. In the health industry, it’s being used to improve medical diagnosis.

In the consumer world, more and more of the technology we rely on in our everyday lives is now powered by AI – from smartphone assistants like Apple’s Siri and Google’s Google Assistant, to self-driving and autonomous cars such as Tesla. Ridesharing applications like Uber and Lyft use machine learning to predict rider demand to ensure that “surge pricing” (short periods of sharp price increases to decrease rider demand and increase driver supply) will soon no longer be necessary. Amazon’s Transactional AI which makes suggestions of what we might be interested in purchasing, using algorithms to make predictions based on our online behavior has been very lucrative for Amazon.

Why all the buzz now?

A confluence of several factors is propelling AI into the business mainstream. Perhaps the single biggest factor is the abundance of available data through the evolution of the digital world. Nowadays every action we take leaves a digital trail. We generate data whenever we go online, carry our GPS-enabled smartphones, post on social media, and even when our “smart” home devices communicate with each other or their home servers, data is generated and shared. Machine-generated data is also rapidly increasing across the globe with industrial machinery in plants and factories now being equipped with sensors that gather and transmit data. The term “Big Data” refers to the collection of all this data and the ability to use it to our advantage across a wide range of areas, including business.

Big Data sets can be so large that using traditional data processing methods to search, interpret or analyze the data wouldn’t be viable. As a result, it needs to be analyzed computationally to reveal patterns, trends, and associations. This computational analysis, has armed businesses with the insights to improve the customer experience and their bottom line by better understanding human behavior and interactions. Many retailers now rely heavily on Big Data to help adjust pricing in near-real time for millions of items, based on demand and inventory.

Another main factor is simply that computers didn’t used to be powerful enough to support the processing of vast amounts of data. Computers today can run complex tasks at higher speeds for lower costs. The expansion of cloud computing and outsourcing of data storage, at more manageable costs has enabled more companies to adopt AI technologies. All of this overlaid with a deeper understanding of how the human brain works and the ability to mimic brain functions within computers has given rise to such capabilities as voice and pattern recognition, natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning (ML).

Is adopting AI costly and only for larger companies?

There are now many different entry points and options available for adopting AI and they do not all require a large investment of capital, updating data management systems, or specialized training. There are various tools, vendors, and APIs that can make implementing Artificial Intelligence more straightforward and cost-effective than you may think depending on your company’s goals and long-term commitment to cognitive capabilities. It’s likely that your organization is already collecting, analyzing and utilizing data. Now it’s just a matter of determining if and how AI can improve what you’re already doing. Consider running a small pilot rather than going all in and picking an area of your business that could particularly benefit from AI.

Don’t get left behind

Leaders in all industries should be thinking about whether, how, and where they should be investing in AI-based technologies. Forrester Research predicts that businesses who use insights (data and AI) will steal $1.2 trillion annually by 2020.

Businesses need to take advantage of new technology to stay competitive and relevant. If you don’t do it, someone else will and therein lies your problem.

Contact Sigmatech today to see how they can help your organization.