The AI trends driving tomorrow’s world
From streamlining data management to creating fresh marketing ideas, AI is already having a major impact on commerce – but we must understand the challenges too, says Christopher Tucci of Imperial College Business School Artificial intelligence is having a profound effect on the world in which...
From streamlining data management to creating fresh marketing ideas, AI is already having a major impact on commerce – but we must understand the challenges too, says Christopher Tucci of Imperial College Business School
Artificial intelligence is having a profound effect on the world in which we live. Whether it’s helping manufacture our goods, tailoring what we see on social media, or offering us customer service assistance, AI is being utilised in virtually all aspects of life. As such, each and every company must consider the benefits and costs of adopting it.
It’s safe to say that every single sector within the global economy is being impacted in one way or another by AI, but some certainly more than others. Early adoption of AI began with mundane, time-consuming and monotonous tasks, where humans were wasting valuable time effectively doing admin work. AI came in to alleviate this workload, and was initially adopted by tech firms and forward-thinking companies.
Now, we see more and more AI technology being implemented more widely across sectors, whether that be hospitality courier services or even in the healthcare sector. All industries are looking at ways they can implement this technology, and ensure it is having a positive impact on their firm. And the ways it can be utilised are increasing rapidly.
Today, companies of all shapes and sizes are reaping the benefits of Big Data and analytics, pattern recognition and automation. For example, businesses frequently use AI algorithms to sift and analyse their salesforce data in real-time, as it is collected, to extract insights that will improve efficiency. Automation, such as deploying driverless vehicles in factories or using software to check and approve employees’ expense claims, is another increasingly common way to make routine tasks quicker and easier to perform.
The exciting news is that this is just the first phase – the baby steps – of what AI can and will do for business. There are limitless applications for Big Data and automation to create opportunities for companies to save money and time.
But that competitive advantage can only last for so long. Soon, every company will have access to the same AI technologies and so their processes will become equally efficient – so there is a need to be constantly evolving and ensuring you don’t rest on your laurels. AI started by helping companies to improve what they already do. Now it’s opening the door to the creation of entirely new products, services and business models – even for “traditional” companies operating outside the technology sector. This is why I think the real AI revolution is yet to come.
However, in which sectors are we most likely to witness AI in the near future? And should companies be constantly evolving and ensuring they are at the cutting edge of AI utilisation? In this article, I look at some of the most interesting AI trends for business, including creative AI, the metaverse, and cybersecurity.
A hot topic in the world of AI is the metaverse, which sounds like an entirely new plane of existence, but is better thought of as the latest form of virtual reality. The challenge for businesses is that, to date, the metaverse has only really come to the fore in video gaming, where it’s used to create rich and interactive multiplayer experiences.
We are yet to see wide scale application anywhere else just yet, although many applications in commerce, financial services, entertainment, are foreseeable, not to mention all the future applications that are difficult to predict at this time.
The next step is for the metaverse’s 360-degree immersive environment to be used for applications with tangible business benefits, such as 3D product demonstrations and employee training. Here at Imperial College Business School, we have even tested the idea of using holograms of our lecturers to host talks and classes remotely.
In a similar way, the metaverse has the potential to revolutionise education and training by allowing teachers and students logging on from all parts of the world to meet and interact within a virtual space. There’s no practical reason a company’s entire staff training programme can’t be taught and hosted from the cloud. This practical application is only going to become more and more applicable as the world moves towards, and wants greater flexibility in its work, and the ability to choose when and how they interact with colleagues.
The metaverse could revolutionise education and training
It was long thought that machines could never contribute to the creative side of business. That robots and AI would simply be used for those monotonous tasks that humans find dull and time consuming. Yet AI-powered applications such as Phrasee are already helping companies to optimise their marketing slogans.
I recently read about how IDEO, a company renowned for ideation and innovation, is augmenting creative brainstorming sessions with AI-generated suggestions. In one session, the team was trying to think of new ways to help customers grow their savings. The AI algorithm came up with the following idea: why don’t we get a monster to leap out of the cash machine every time someone tried to withdraw their money?
Of course, this is completely crazy, but that’s what’s so exciting about it. A monster leaping out of a cash machine is exactly the kind of off-the-wall, lateral thinking you need in a good brainstorm. And once a machine can generate an idea that is genuinely original, it can play a useful role in your company’s creative processes. It might even inspire your team to head in a completely new direction. Using AI for ideation and sparking creativity is still in its infancy but it is a fascinating area with huge potential.
AI can play a useful role in your company's creative processes
Of more immediate concern for companies is what the growth of AI and machine learning will mean for cybersecurity. Some commentators have suggested AI can “solve” the cybersecurity problem once and for all, by giving businesses the tools to make their IT networks unhackable. I think this is overly optimistic for the simple reason that both
sides of the cybersecurity struggle – corporate SecOps teams and the cybercriminals trying to breach their defences – ultimately have access to the same technology. AI is certainly accelerating advances in cybersecurity but it’s an arms race that looks set to continue, and escalate, indefinitely.
Cybersecurity is just one of a range of issues that highlight an important truth about AI for business: it is creating challenges as well as opportunities. One example is the way in which AI algorithms can unintentionally inherit the biases of the humans who created them. Another is “AI explainability”, which is the question of what happens when an algorithm becomes so complex that no one – not even its developers – can fully explain how or why it has reached a particular output or decision.
An even bigger challenge for companies that are relatively new to the possibilities of AI is the conundrum of when and how to get involved in the first place. This can lead to a kind of paralysis, in which companies endlessly wait to see how a new technology will develop. Their caution is understandable. However, when you’re dealing with a rapidly evolving new technology, waiting until tomorrow is nearly always a mistake.
It is clear to see that it’s incredibly important that firms constantly evolve and understand not only the benefits, but the challenges that come with AI as well. It’s a constantly changing environment, and to stay ahead you can’t take your eye off the ball. That’s why it is vital for every business to start grappling with the challenges and opportunities of AI today – otherwise they will simply never catch up.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Christopher L Tucci is Professor of Digital Strategy & Innovation at Imperial College Business School. He is director of the Imperial Executive Education Digital Transformation programme and also co-director of Imperial Executive Education Machine Learning and AI programme. His primary area of interest is in how firms make transitions to new business models, technologies, and organisational forms.