Crafting a Vision for the AI-Enabled Future
Artificial Intelligence (AI) represents an interesting paradox. On the one hand, the goals of systems that can behave with the intelligence of humans, perceiving their environment around them, understanding and comprehending information and how to apply that information for decision-making, learning from experiences, and even greater ideas around consciousness and self-awareness have been lofty goals envisioned by computer science, brain and cognitive scientists, philosophers, engineers, and mathematicians since even before the birth of modern computing. On the other hand, much of what we envision applying AI to are the fundamental, day-to-day needs of enterprises, individuals, and organizations. In this way we have the conflicting demands of where we want AI research to go and its eventual desired end state combined with the practical needs of today that keep the engine of AI research funded and progressing.
Furthermore, AI has experienced a significant revival in interest from previous AI Winters. In this current climate, there is plenty of funding, talent, and innovation happening across the globe. And as we discussed in our 2018 Predictions article and podcast, we don’t believe that wave of interest will diminish any time soon. However, we’re also seeing way too much opportunism, bandwagon jumping, and outright deception from vendors that are taking advantage of this wave of interest to peddle their wares with the thinnest “AI” capabilities, if they have any at all. These vendors and professional services firms risk derailing the ongoing interest of AI unless companies and individuals have a framework by which to understand which innovations matter and are progressing the AI industry and which are just side-shows run by vendor opportunists.
From Cognilytica’s perspective, we can combine these two different conflicting desires for the future of AI into a cohesive, comprehensive, four-part vision of where these emerging technologies are taking us and the desires of individuals and enterprises. We see AI as being an important, transformational change agent not only to the way business is done, but to the way people live their daily lives. In crafting this AI-Enabled vision of the future, which is in essence Cognilytica’s thesis on the AI markets, we not only share with you where we believe things are inevitably heading, but also provide a context to understand the ongoing innovations in the market and whether vendor contributions are progressing individuals and companies closer to this AI-Enabled Future or are just side-shows that jump on the AI bandwagon without contributing to this future.
The AI-Enhanced Organization
One of the four parts of the vision of the AI-Enhanced Future is the concept of the AI-Enhanced Organization. There is no doubt that AI is as transformative to businesses, enterprises, and organizations of all types as the waves of the Internet and mobile have been. AI promises tremendous leaps of productivity, informational value, efficiency, insight, and process improvements, and organizations that fail to adopt AI will operate at a significant disadvantage to their competitors. The lessons of the bankruptcy of companies like Toys-R-Us, Blockbuster, and others should show the peril of companies that choose to willfully ignore the screaming signals the market is giving to future trends. AI is that screaming signal. Innovate or die.
In our vision, we see three primary ways in which the organizations will enhance their operations with AI. There’s no way to sugar coat that organizations will be using AI to adjust their workforces. Many jobs that are high-value but human intensive will be replaced by AI-enabled counterparts, whether outright human replacements in the form of Intelligent Assistants, or as Augmented Intelligent counterparts that won’t completely replace their human peers but greatly reduce the need for human labor. These AI-enabled workforce adjustments are not just automation capabilities. As we’ve written and spoken about in the past, automation is not intelligence. In fact, many of these automation tools will themselves be pushed aside in favor of more intelligent process systems that can adapt and learn to an organizations’ changing business needs, automatically allocate resources as needed, and provide an intelligent console by which a business can truly manage and plan their enterprise.
Another way in which AI will impact the organization of the future is by enabling mass-customization and personalization at scale. Through the power of CRM and ERP and marketing automation tools, over the past few decades organizations have amassed significant information on their customers, prospects, audience, employees, and more. Yet, we’re only at the beginning. AI will enable organizations to put all that information to much more powerful use, providing a personalized, unique experience for every single one of its customers and audience. Instead of market segmentation as part of a marketing strategy, we’ll see 1:1 customer to company engagement models that will make every interaction with an enterprise personal, relevant, and timely. This will dramatically change advertising, marketing, customer support, and even human resources (HR) and other human to enterprise interactions.
AI will enable the peer economy and self-employment in ways that the Internet and mobile have not yet been able to. In the future, will enterprises consist of full-time salaried workers (pressured by their intelligent autonomous counterparts), or will they consist of lean / slim organizations empowered by legions of self-employed, self-directed individuals that have the power of AI, internet, and mobile to make them effective and efficient enterprise partners? These changes will have significant impact in terms of staffing, real estate, insurance, benefits, labor laws, and more. Cognilytica is keeping close watch on all these trends and enablers.
Furthermore, AI enables the concept of the “always-on corporation”. In the AI-Enabled Future there won’t really be such a thing as a closing time for businesses. Already, individuals have the expectation they can interact with companies online any time they want, and the pervasiveness of mobile computing has put the power of that interaction in anyone’s hands at any time. AI will kick this always-on interaction into high gear. It won’t be long before the concept of Autonomous Retail will become prevalent in the industry. Amazon is already in the midst of pioneering a new type of store with Amazon Go where stores can remain always open without the hassle of a check-out line. Will we see 24hr autonomous Starbucks? Even for service companies that require human interaction, bots of all sorts will provide customer support, social media interaction, and many workforce capabilities in an autonomous way while their human counterparts are home sleeping. Prepare for the expectation that your business will need to be available around the clock, no excuses.
One of the most visible parts of the AI-Enabled Future are autonomous robots, devices, and systems of all sorts. Autonomous vehicles, which once seemed like science fiction a mere decade ago, now seems like an inevitability that urban planners are now having to deal with. But Cognilytica sees that as only the beginning. Airborne, autonomous drones will be used for all manner of things, and we’ll start to see their use within a wide range of personal and commercial contexts. Will autonomous police pull over autonomous vehicles that speed? Or will the whole idea of speeding go away as autonomous vehicles take over the roads? Will our children and children’s children even own cars anymore? In the past, riding a horse was a necessity to get around. Now riding horses is a hobby. Will driving cars entirely by yourself be the curious hobby of the future? If so, will houses even have garages or driveways, or will garages be the autonomous loading and delivery docks of the future? What will this mean for the growth of cities and suburbs? What will happen when all trucking goes autonomous? Will states build autonomous-only highways and streets to improve safety and efficiency? These are all possible in the AI-Enabled Future.
As hinted above, autonomous doesn’t just mean robots and moving devices. We already see the use of autonomous systems for retail, health care, journalism, and even critical infrastructure management. Imagine construction bots that keep our bridges, roads, and facilities under constant maintenance. What impact will this have on the construction industry? Furthermore, autonomous everything will continue to change the relationship between humans and the things we “own”. Already it’s clear that ride-sharing combined with autonomous vehicles gives us the freedom to never have to own a car. The on-demand economy will extend in ways we can’t even imagine today. Without owning anything, will we instead just have a single subscription to an on-demand resource provider? Is this the inevitable long-term future of Amazon Prime?
Enhancing the Human Experience
The value of AI is not limited to just that of enterprises. We see the AI-Enabled Future enabling all sorts of enhancements to the human experience. In our recent podcast, we interviewed musician and YouTube celebrity Taryn Southern who used AI to create and produce an entire album. What’s most interesting and compelling is that Taryn calls herself a “hobbyist” musician and not a professional, but she was able to create a professional-quality output. This is the power of AI as augmented intelligence to enhance and further the creative capabilities of humanity. AI enables people to take their creativity and inspiration to the ultimate level, making high quality musicians, artists, poets, writers, videographers, and even poker players of everyone. The upside to this is the unleashing of all of our innate creative ability. The downside is that we blur the lines between what a human can do on their own and what is augmented. Already we can’t believe everything we see or hear. The doping and cheating scandals of the future will be AI-enabled scandals in which AI systems provide unfair advantages in academic, creative, and sporting pursuits.
AI also enables the possibility of the “universal translator” (or if you’re a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fan, the “babel fish“), in which humans can communicate with anyone else in any language and be understood. Even issues of local custom and etiquette can be addressed by our smart AI assistants, which can guide us on what to say and what to do in every context, and observe visual queues through facial recognition and a vast knowledge base. That future is almost here, and humanity will never be the same.
There’s also no doubt that AI moves us up one more level on the so-called “Data-Information-Knowledge-Wisdom (DIKW) Pyramid“. Whereas the first era of computing brought data to the organization and CRM and ERP systems elevated us to the information level, the introduction of Machine Learning (ML) and other AI approaches to that information brings about knowledge that has been hereto unavailable. Yet, it’s not just that we have knowledge available at our fingertips, it’s that the AI-Enabled Future makes that knowledge pervasive. In the same way now that we all have the assumption that everyone is constantly connected (pervasive computing) due to the internet and mobile phones, in the AI-Enabled Future we’ll have the assumption that everyone and everything will have knowledge about everyone else. This means that the assumption will be that everyone already knows who we are, what we want, where we are, and what we’re doing. This doesn’t arrive solely through pervasive surveillance (although that is a part), but because of our own choice for convenience and security purposes.
Right now the concept of pervasive connectivity manifests itself in the fact that organizations can text or email you information and that will suffice, and indeed be preferred, as the way to get information across over the old methods. But in the future, even this won’t suffice. For example, instead of sending text alerts for major weather events, the idea of pervasive knowledge will mean that the assumption will be that they can tell each person specifically where to go, what to do, and how to handle themselves for that particular emergency. We already have that information, now we can put it to use.
This means that individuals will demand more of their relationships with governments, companies, and each other. We will expect things to be available as instantly as we need it, and the information provided be complete, because there simply will be no excuse to do otherwise. As a result, this pervasive knowledge will become part of the assumption of where we are, just like we are now expecting to be able to get Internet, electricity, and information whenever and wherever we need it without excuse.