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What Is Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence

For all of the talk about disruptive innovation and new technologies in our digital-first world, one of the most promising mega-trends is artificial intelligence (“AI”). AI sounds almost too good to be true, yet it is already showing signs of truly transforming the way that we work and play.

But while AI generates so much discussion in the tech and business world these days, much of the discussion is vague or uninformed. It is easy for the general public to hear some mention or reference to AI and think of a superhuman thinking machine that will take over the world or disruptive technology that is going to cost them their jobs

The simple reality is that the impact of AI is much more nuanced than that. While it is always difficult to predict the future, AI presents significant opportunities and threats to our society. In combination with the Cloud and Big Data, it is a true game-changer. Whether or not you are technically proficient in the ins and outs of AI technology, it is vital to understand this technology’s current and future ramifications on our society.

AI Basics and Current Impact

AI, broadly speaking, is the ability for a machine to perform cognitive functions like perceiving, learning, reasoning, and problem-solving. AI itself has its origins in the mid-1950s, yet it has received increased attention in recent years due to things like increases in computing power.   

In the discussion of AI today, there are many different types of terms that are thrown around. You may have heard of things like machine learning (“ML”) and deep learning. All of these concepts are underneath the umbrella of AI. ML, for instance, is a sub-field of AI. Specifically, ML is the art of studying algorithms that learn from past examples and experiences. Essentially, the machine studies the past to develop its own rules to accomplish some objective or goal. Deep learning, on the other hand, is a subset of ML. It ultimately means that the machine uses different layers to learn from the data that is provided. The learning phase is completed through a so-called neural network, where computer software mimics the network of neurons in a human brain.

Whether you are speaking about AI, ML, or deep learning, however, the ultimate goal is to have a machine demonstrate something like (or even beyond) human intelligence. While the technology continues to improve every year, we have already seen AI create real value in our lives. In all likelihood, you have already used an AI-powered product without even knowing. For example, if you are a Gmail user, you have taken advantage of Gmail’s automatic email filtering feature. If you are an iPhone user, you have probably used Siri to help you with your day-to-day tasks. The examples are endless, ultimately showing how ubiquitous AI has already become in our world today. 

Linking AI, the Cloud, and Big Data

AI is so powerful in today’s world for several different reasons, but one of the most powerful is that it is used in conjunction with cloud technology and Big Data. Let’s start with cloud computing technology. According to Deloitte, cloud-based AI is helping many companies surmount barriers to AI adoption. Even if companies or organizations do not have an in-house team to build and train AI systems, they can work with third-party cloud-based software and platforms to implement AI in their organizations. These platforms are vital in helping organizations of all sizes leverage AI throughout their operations.

As for Big Data, it is clear that data powers AI. Without data, AI simply would not work. AI has become even more powerful in recent years, however, because our machines are generating gargantuan amounts of data today. Making connections between AI algorithms and Big Data within a certain company, organization, or even government can enable a holistic view of a complex problem. Working together, AI and Big Data can deliver game-changing insights that can help those organizations better fulfill their overarching missions.

Tactics for Success

As you can likely tell by now, AI is an extremely powerful mega-trend that you will certainly want to leverage in your organization. But how to do it? There are several best practices that you should follow.

First, think about the value that you want to create with AI. It is tempting, but you shouldn’t invest resources into AI technology simply for the sake of investing in AI. While you may feel like you need to keep up with your competitors by investing in AI, gather your team and think about how you can use AI to accomplish your business goals. You need to focus on creating concrete value with AI. If not, you will likely be frustrated and disappointed.

Next, think about bringing in experts to help you with your project. Unless you work with AI practitioners in your organization, it is probably in your best interest to work with third-party professionals. Luckily, there are many qualified AI vendors in the marketplace that you can hire. When working with those professionals, clearly explain your vision and business objectives for the project. Don’t be afraid to ask questions—no matter how “dumb” you think they may be. Working with trained professionals is obviously an investment, but it will likely save you time and headaches compared to going it alone.

Finally, make sure that you are starting small. While it may be tempting to spearhead a comprehensive, large AI initiative within your organization, you will find it easier to take baby steps. Start by creating one small project that only applies to a sample of your overall data. Take advantage of the many analytics tools so that you can measure the results from your experiment. When you are confident that you are achieving promising results, feel free to expand the scale of your experiments.

What’s Next in AI

AI as it stands is extremely exciting. We can already do so many things with AI, from recommending your next favorite movie on Netflix to keeping your Tesla vehicle in its lane when you have engaged Autopilot. But what is on deck for AI in the next few decades?

It is difficult to definitively say. That said, 23 leading AI experts spoke with Martin Ford for his new book Architects of Intelligence. One of the most game-changing potential applications of AI centers on artificial general intelligence (“AGI”), which is the ability of a machine to understand or learn any intellectual task that a human being can. On average, the experts predict that AGI will arrive in 80 years from now. While many members of the public fear that AGI could mark the end of human existence as we know it, the 23 AI experts were more skeptical. Beyond AGI, we will continue to see advancements in the overall power and performance of AI, meaning that it will become an essential part of nearly every industry. Noted AI expert Andrew Ng argues that AI is the new electricity, so we will most likely see improvements in this technology affect nearly every part of our lives.

Regardless of the future of AI, however, it is clear that this technology is not going away anytime soon. Having a working knowledge of AI can not only satisfy your intellectual curiosity, but can help you find unique opportunities in the years ahead.