Zero One: AI Creeps Into the Enterprise
Somewhere within the walls of your company, artificial intelligence is taking root. You probably haven’t seen AI headlining an internal email. You might not even be aware of its existence. Should you be worried?
There’s no question the mysterious, secretive nature of AI causes a lot of angst and has people wondering what AI is and isn’t.
“AI may not be part of a new corporate initiative, but may come in simply as tools are upgraded or introduced,” says Comptia in a report. “Infrastructure components such as firewalls and routers are now enhanced with AI functionality, especially as software-defined networking becomes more prevalent.”
One in four companies are making regular use of AI, according to Comptia. Natural language vendor Narrative Science’s annual research report, “Outlook on Artificial Intelligence in the Enterprise 2018,” is even more bullish. The report found that 61 percent of survey respondents had implemented AI in their businesses last year.
In terms of sheer dollars, IDC says $12.5 billion was spent on AI systems last year. IDC expects this figure to grow 54.4 percent through 2020.
Given AI’s ability to permeate existing apps via upgrades, adoption is hard to pin down. McKinsey Global Institute has identified nearly 600 discrete uses for AI across major industries. Narrative Science says 90 percent of business intelligence pros are interested in incorporating AI to make their data and analytics tools smarter.
AI supports an array of applications for predictive analytics, natural language processing, digital assistants and chatbots, robotic process automation, to name a few. Ovum ICT Enterprise Insights found that 10-15 percent of enterprise are currently deploying AI-supported applications, while the majority of enterprises are trialing or planning to use them.
A Deloitte study last year on the business benefits of AI found that executives believe AI can enhance products, optimize internal operations, free up workers, improve decision-making, create new products, optimize external processes (e.g. marketing and sales), pursue new markets, capture and apply scarce knowledge, and reduce head count through automation.
In other words, AI has the potential to creep into every corner of a company.
Fears about AI bubble to the surface because the technology is often portrayed as a job killer and depicted in sci-fi movies as dangerously out of control. Misinformation shrouds AI. Last year, a Sage Group survey found that 43 percent of respondents in the United States and 46 percent in the United Kingdom admitted that they have “no idea what AI is all about.”
But they soon will, because AI is making its way into major enterprise and consumer technologies.
On the enterprise front, AI is poised to ride the wave of the Internet of Things. It’s become clear that more processing will happen on the edge – that is, on IoT devices – and edge computing is an ideal place for AI.
“Traditionally, most AI applications have resided in the cloud – a network of remote servers – for both training and inference,” say Gaurav Batra, Andrea Queirolo, and Nick Santhanam in a McKinsey article. “However, inference at the edge will become increasingly common for applications where latency in the order of microseconds is mission critical.”
The McKinsey article cites a self-driving car hitting the breaks as an example of the need for near-zero latency.
It also doesn’t make sense trying to pack a lot of programming and rules on an edge device. Through AI and machine learning, the edge device becomes smarter and faster without additional programming.
“It is no great surprise to see that AI in many cases is tied to another emerging technology – Internet of Things,” Comptia says. “The complexity of IoT systems practically demands some form of automation and network learning.”
On the consumer side, AI experts agree that popular voice-enabled devices such as Alexa aren’t AI but will eventually gain AI abilities. Essentially, these devices are acting as a kind of Trojan Horse to bring AI into homes.
Within a short period, say, three to five years, AI just might be so ingrained in our culture that it’ll have lost its futuristic mysticism, said Kris Bondi, CMO of Neura, at Mobile World Congress in San Francisco last fall.
“The reality is that it’s here now, and it will be ubiquitous in so many things that we won’t need to say that it’s AI enhanced, it’s AI special,” she says.
Tom Kaneshige writes the Zero One blog covering digital transformation, AI, marketing tech and the Internet of Things for line-of-business executives. He is based in Silicon Valley. You can reach him at email@example.com.