Written by Bret Greenstein, Global Vice-President of Cognizant and Head of Digital Business AI Practice
In 2019, artificial intelligence (AI) will increasingly become a mainstream presence in our work and personal lives, inspiring our purchase decisions and digging deeper into business outcomes and events. At the same time, expectations surrounding AI will also grow, as calls for transparency and fair play become too loud for businesses to ignore. Here are four ways we see AI making a difference in our lives in the new year:
AI gets warm and fuzzy.Conversational AI is fast becoming a fact of life; already, 20% of U.S. adults have access to smart speakers in their homes. Google Assistant’s new “polite mode” even uses positive reinforcement to encourage the use of “please” and “thank you.” In 2019, we’ll see a breakout year for AI chatbots in customer service. When it comes to online commerce, chatbots and conversational agents have already begun to feel as natural as chatting with a human. Now conversational AI is ready to tackle more complex questions. Earlier this month, Internet giant Alibaba demonstrated an AI tool that handily manages tricky customer exchanges such as interruptions and nonlinear conversations. The tool is already in use at Alibaba’s logistics arm Cainiao to service millions of customer requests daily. The annoying era of “Press 1” for customer service is coming to an end. We won’t miss it.
Image recognition takes off. We’re moving from fictional, Tom Clancy-like scenarios to real-world applications that similarly amaze. AI-enabled visual recognition is diagnosing diseases and seeing the world from angles that humans can’t. AI-fueled drones, for example, enable power companies to not only keep an eye on their vast inventories of wooden poles, but through 3-D capabilities, they’re also spotting poles at risk for toppling over, impacting service or endangering lives. Other image-recognition ideas being tested include ocean-faring drones that use their birds-eye vantage point to identify sharks swimming near beaches. By moving AI applications into the sky, organizations can more safely and quickly detect and avoid dangerous conditions.
The veil gets pulled back on root causes. Causality – or understanding “why” events occur – is poised to be one of AI’s greatest advances in 2019. Right now, AI is most often used to detect patterns and predict outcomes by churning through huge datasets. In 2019, more AI systems will incorporate machine learning and analytics techniques to understand the whys behind the data. Think of AI as the chief operating officer for your organization: Sure, your business is putting data to productive use, but is it the right data? That is, is the sales lift due to the stepped-up marketing budget, or is the boost coming from channel changes or perhaps weather? Knowing this, teams can better understand what makes their business tick. Healthcare providers, for example, are using AI-based causality to determine causal factors for hospital readmissions. Does the patient live too far from a pharmacy to access required medicine? Do home or financial issues play a role? Until now, we thought we knew why things happen. AI is about to show us whether we’ve been smart or, perhaps, just lucky.
Outcry builds for transparency and ethical AI. Until now, humans have programmed computer systems, coding and testing for every input and output. But now that AI systems can learn on their own, humans can end up feeling out of the loop – which makes a lot of people nervous. Next year, we’ll see more pressure on companies to demonstrate transparency, ethics and safeguards against bias in their AI systems. No more hiding behind algorithms (think of social media companies’ refusals to explain why certain stories appear at the top of our newsfeeds). Expectations are growing for AI to not only be fair but also open about why the algorithms lead to the decisions the system makes. In addition to transparency, change management programs will play a greater role in helping organizations increase trust in algorithms and persuade employees to accept AI decisions.
AI in the Next 12 Months
AI has great potential to transform almost every business and to become widely accepted in our workplaces and homes. This coming year will be a true test not so much for AI but for its leaders and for forward thinkers: The challenge is to make the refinements necessary for build trust in AI so that it can shoulder more valuable business decisions, become part of our families, and evolve into a progressive tool for positive change.