Artificial Intelligence: Disruption or Opportunity?

AArtificial intelligence (AI), one of twenty core technologies I identified back in 1983 as the drivers of exponential economic value creation, has worked its way into our lives. From Amazon’s Alexa and Facebook’s M to Google’s Now and Apple’s Siri, AI is always growing — so keeping a closer eye on future developments, amazing opportunities, and predictable problems is imperative.

IBM’s Watson is a good example of a fast-developing AI system. Watson is a cognitive computer that learns over time. This cognitive AI technology can process information much more like a smart human than a smart computer. IBM Watson first shot to fame back in 2011 by beating two of Jeopardy’s greatest champions on TV. Thanks to its three unique capabilities — natural language processing; hypothesis generation and evaluation; and dynamic learning — cognitive computing is being applied in an ever-growing list of fields.

Today, cognitive computing is used in a wide variety of applications, including health care, travel, and weather forecasting. When IBM acquired The Weather Company, journalists were quick to voice their amusement. However, IBM soon had the last laugh when people learned that the Weather Company’s cloud-based service could handle over 26 million inquiries every day on the organization’s website and mobile app, all while learning from the daily changes in weather and from the questions being asked. The data gleaned from the fourth most-used mobile app would whet the appetite of the permanently ravenous IBM Watson and enable IBM to increase the level of analytics for its business clients.

Weather is responsible for business losses to the tune of $500 billion a year. Pharmaceutical companies rely on accurate forecasts to predict a rise in the need for allergy medication. Farmers’ livelihoods often depend on the weather as well, not only impacting where crops can be successfully grown but also where the harvest should be sold. Consider the news that IBM followed its Weather Company purchase by snapping up Merge Healthcare Inc. for a cool $1 billion in order to integrate its imaging management platform into Watson, and the dynamic future of AI becomes more than evident.

The accounting industry can benefit from this technology, as well. When I was the keynote speaker at KPMG’s annual partner meeting, I suggested that the company consider partnering with IBM to have Watson learn all of the global accounting regulations so that they could transform their practice and gain a huge advantage. After doing their own research on the subject, the KPMG team proceeded to form an alliance with IBM’s Watson unit to develop high-tech tools for auditing, as well as for KPMG’s other lines of business.

Thanks to the cloud and the virtualization of services, no one has  to own the tools in order to have access to them, allowing even smaller firms to gain an advantage in this space. Success all comes back to us humans and how creatively we use the new tools.

IBM’s Watson, along with advanced AI and analytics from Google, Facebook, and others, will gain cognitive insights mined from the ever-growing mountains of data generated by the Internet of Things (IoT) to revolutionize every industry.

Advanced AI is promising almost limitless possibilities that will enable businesses in every field to make better decisions in far less time. But at what price? Many believe the technology will lead directly to massive job cuts throughout multiple industries. and suggest that this technology is making much of the human race redundant.

It is crucial to recognize how the technological landscape is evolving before our eyes during this digital transformation. Yes, it is true that hundreds of traditional jobs are disappearing, but it’s also important to realize the wealth of new roles and employment opportunities arriving that are needed to help us progress further.

The rise of the machines started with the elimination of repetitive tasks, such as those in the manufacturing environment, and it is now moving more into white-collar jobs. The key for us is not to react to change, but to get ahead of it by paying attention to what I call the “Hard Trends” — the facts that are shaping the future — so that we can all anticipate the problems and new opportunities ahead of us. We would do well to capitalize on the areas that computers have great difficulty understanding, including collaboration, communication, problem solving, and much more. To stay ahead of the curve, we will all need to learn new things on an ongoing basis, as well as unlearn the old ways that are now holding us back. Remember, we live in a human world where relationships are all-important.

We need to be aware of the new tools available to us, and then creatively apply them to transform the impossible into the possible. By acquiring new knowledge, developing creativity and problem-solving skills, and honing our interpersonal, social, and communication skills, we can all thrive in a world of transformational change.

Are you reacting to change or paying attention to the Hard Trend facts that are shaping the future?

If you want to anticipate the problems and opportunities ahead of you, pick up a copy of my latest book, The Anticipatory Organization.

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