February 8, 2018
by Scott Likens
Why now’s the time to get serious about artificial intelligence.
We’ve all seen the headlines time and again: technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, and the internet of things (IoT) will change our lives and work over the next decade. Such long-term forecasts are important, but business leaders must make decisions right now. They don’t want sci-fi visions. They want to know how and when AI will affect their organizations—and what they should do about it today.
PwC just published some predictions about immediate trends to watch, based on insights not only from the technologists in our AI Accelerator and Emerging Tech Labs, but also from our finance, risk, operations, and cyber leaders and teams. And plural “teams” is intentional—not a typo. To develop and execute a near-term AI strategy, organizations must form cross-functional teams. No single function can succeed in isolation.
These are the trends that are beginning to emerge but haven’t caught much attention yet:
- AI will impact employers before employees. AI probably won’t devastate the job market in the long run—and it certainly won’t do so in 2018. But AI works best when it brings together data and teams from different disciplines. An AI solution to help hospital staff decide which medical procedures to authorize, for example, will need input not just from AI and medical specialists, but also from legal, human resources, cybersecurity, and compliance teams. The average enterprise, which has data and people in silos, isn’t ready for what AI is about to demand of it.
- AI will simplify work. AI is ready right now to automate complex processes, identify trends to create business value, and provide forward-looking intelligence. For example, all those hours that finance departments spend wading through data from ERP, payment processing, business intelligence, and other systems? AI will take care of that. The result will be less busywork for humans and better strategic decisions: employees working more effectively than before.
- AI will help answer data questions. Many investments in data integration and technology have failed to answer the big question: Where’s the return on investment? But AI is now delivering business cases for data initiatives. New data tools are making these initiatives more affordable. For example, in many cases, a human no longer needs to spend endless hours indexing and classifying data from texts. Natural language processing can mine data from documents.
- AI techies are not the only people in the AI talent race. There’s a bidding war for computer scientists, and salaries for AI specialists sometimes rise into the millions. But as AI leaves the computer lab and enters everyday work processes, subject matter specialists who have certain basic AI skills will also be crucial for enterprise success.
- AI will make cyberattacks (and cyberdefense) more powerful. Intelligent malware and ransomware that learns as it spreads, machine intelligence coordinating global cyberattacks, advanced data analytics to customize attacks—it’s all coming. Organizations can’t bring a knife to a gunfight. They’ll need to fight AI with AI. Sample use cases include distributed denial of service (DDOS) pattern recognition, prioritization of log alerts for escalation and investigation, and risk-based authentication.
- AI’s black box and how to open it becomes a priority. AI spinning out of control isn’t a danger for 2018. But AI that acts inexplicably—and therefore makes leaders and consumers wary of using it—is a real risk. Pressure will grow on enterprise users to open up “black boxes,” so customers, investors, regulators, and other stakeholders can “see inside” AI to know how it’s making decisions. New techniques can make AI explainable, transparent, or provable.
- AI will cause nations to spar—and China will advance. AI is a gigantic opportunity, and many governments are working to get their countries a big piece of the pie. Tax reform and deregulation may give AI a boost in the United States, but China stands apart. It’s prioritizing AI for its economic future.
- AI—and its control and monitoring—goes beyond tech companies. Invasion of privacy, algorithmic bias, environmental damage, threats to brands and the bottom line—the fears related to AI are numerous. But a global consensus is emerging around principles for responsible AI. Organizations’ stakeholders will make them pay attention. Self-regulatory organizations—which bring users together around certain principles and then oversee and regulate compliance, levy fines as needed, and refer violations to regulators—are one likely path.
What to do now?
AI isn’t something for the far future. And it’s most certainly not just something for tech companies or tech functions. Bring together your entire leadership team to discuss AI. Whether for data initiatives, upskilling workforces, cybersecurity—even tax reform—AI must be on your agenda this year. It’s time to start learning, testing, collaborating, and incorporating AI across your business.
To learn more about these trends, download 2018 AI Predictions: 8 insights to shape business strategy.