Artificial intelligence looks set to transform every sector of the global economy. Here we look at some of the most interesting AI trends for business, including creative AI, the metaverse and cybersecurity
The robots are coming! That’s the refrain common to many predictions about the future of artificial intelligence (AI). The truth, of course, is that for most technology-led businesses, the robots are already here.
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, if you will – of what AI can and will do for business. Big Data and automation have created huge 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. 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.
1. Creative AI
It was long held that machines could never contribute to the creative side of business. Yet AI-powered applications such as Phrasee are already helping companies to optimise their marketing slogans.
I recently read about how IDEO, a company famous 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 a completely crazy idea 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 is still in its infancy but it is a fascinating area with huge potential.
2. The metaverse
Another 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.
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.
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 un-hackable. 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 programmers – 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. 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.