Small Business Technology News

Artificial Intelligence Goes Mainstream

Written by Tim Morral
Published: 6/16/2016

There can be no doubt that artificial intelligence (AI) is out of the laboratory and is now making its way into myriad aspects of daily life. But how will it affect your business?

It's an old geek joke: artificial intelligence is the wave of the future...and always will be.

Artificial Intelligence Going Mainstream

But these days, artificial intelligence is no laughing matter.

Big Strides Forward in Artificial Intelligence

We are now seeing applications of AI everywhere, as technologists race to develop computers that are smart enough to make inferences, come to decisions and take actions that we'd normally assume only a human could do.

More than that, the computers now can outperform even the most talented humans, and, adding insult to injury, they can even do things that no human could ever do.

As an example of the former, ask grandmaster Go player Lee Sedol how he lost to Google's artificially intelligent computer system. Go is exponentially more complex than chess, and intuition plays a big role in the game. Yet, Google's machine learning algorithms were able to beat the top human competitor in the world.

As an example of the latter, cases where computers can do things that no human can do, turn to the world of Big Data, where computers regularly, and very quickly, process vast amounts of data that no human could ever deal with.

And Big Data is only going to get faster. In fact, now the buzzword is Fast Data. As ZDNet reports, new technology from Intel is going to allow computers to very quickly put a petabyte of data in memory and process it. That's one million gigabytes. This means that the hardware bottleneck that has been slowing Big Data and machine learning down is not going to exist anymore, unleashing a new era of insanely cheap and insanely fast artificial intelligence on the world.

The AI Economy

In a contributed article on the Forbes website, investor Daniel Arbess recently discussed the coming of the "AI economy" and what he is calling "A-AIaaS" or Applied Artificial Intelligence-as-a-Service.

That's a mouthful of an acronym, and he probably needs a better one -- but it's a pattern I've been seeing too. VC firms are writing big checks to tech entrepreneurs who are using artificial intelligence concepts to do everything from finding the best prospective customers for your business to call on to deciding when a company needs to make a trade to hedge its foreign currency risks.

In addition to improvements in computer hardware, there's also a change in which data scientists themselves are getting automated. A few years ago, you had to be right-side-of-the-bell-curve brilliant to work with Big Data. That was a problem since, sadly, smart humans are in short supply. So, the software companies have been automating the work done by the data scientists, and you now see many companies touting the fact that the software can do everything, without your having to hire an expensive data scientist.

Long story short, artificial intelligence is here to stay. Indeed, just this week, my favorite enterprise messaging platform, NetSfere, announced an AI chatbot that uses natural language processing to engage with users in a way that simulates human-to-human conversations. "As messaging services continue to grow in usage and popularity, chat bots are what will really take messaging to the next level by providing an engaging and enhanced customer experience," said Anurag Lal, CEO of Infinite Convergence.

The Implications of AI Mainstreaming

Around the world, companies are making big bets on artificial intelligence, and adoption is accelerating. The world's pessimists and luddites are not welcoming this news, fearing that artificial intelligence will make humans obsolete.

Some of this fear is warranted. Balancing out his optimism about the opportunities that are emerging from artificial intelligence, Arbess say in his Forbes article: "Prepare for intensifying, potentially de-stabilizing, social tension over winners and losers, income and wealth disparities in the AI economy..."

But, juxtaposed against this quote from Arbess, I prefer the famous John F. Kennedy quote: "Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future."

I like that quote in part because the first startup company I worked at had it printed on t-shirts to remind us that we were participating in something big. But, mostly, I like it because it's true: you have to see and embrace the future to make the most of it.

The bottomline?

Artificial intelligence has gone mainstream. It can make all of our lives better, yet undoubtedly it will make some of our lives worse.

How it plays out for you personally is in your control. If you own a business, you need to be thinking now about how to use artificial intelligence to your advantage and make the most of the fast-emerging AI economy.

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