Briefing: Artificial intelligence

January 22, 2018

by and


Everyone’s talking about AI, but what do they really mean? Get smart on the basics and the trends for 2018.


Artificial intelligence (AI) has entered the business mainstream, and it’s a hot topic everywhere, from the boardroom to the breakroom. In reality, however, relatively few organizations are applying the technology to their businesses. Our recent survey of CEOs found that less than a quarter are putting it to work.

What’s the outlook for 2018?

Looking ahead to the next year, we expect a number of significant trends to play a role in how the technology advances and how executives will begin to integrate it into their businesses.

For example, on the technology front, new insight into and variations of neural nets will extend AI’s reach and make it possible to apply it to a wider range of problems. See our overview of the top technology developments to watch.

And on the business side, companies will begin to recalibrate expectations around AI and focus on more practical efforts while also considering broader implications around the responsible use of AI. (Learn about the top trends for business leaders here.)

Not quite ready to look ahead? Get a quick refresher on AI below.

What is artificial intelligence?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is an umbrella term for “smart” technologies that are aware of and can learn from their environments, enabling them to subsequently take autonomous action. Robotic process automation, machine learning, natural language processing, and neural networks all incorporate AI into their operations. What separates AI from general-purpose software is that it enable machines to respond autonomously to signals from the external world—signals that programmers do not directly control and therefore cannot always anticipate.

AI enables a variety of other emerging technologies as well. For example, it provides the “brain power” that allows robots to take on human-like characteristics, and it lends the analytical muscle that derives meaning from—and can act on—the flood of data generated by billions of interconnected devices in the internet of things (IoT).

There’s a great deal of hype surrounding AI, and it is often portrayed as either a servant, enabling technologies to be more responsive to the humans that operate them, or an overlord, eliminating people’s jobs and violating our privacy. But for business executives, it is primarily an enabler of enhanced innovation and increased productivity. Yes, it may eliminate some existing jobs, but it will also fundamentally change work processes by pairing people and machines in newly efficient ways and creating more productive workplaces.

In our broad definition, AI is a collective term for computer systems that can sense their environment, think, learn, and take action in response to what they’re sensing and their objectives. Forms of AI in use today include, among others, digital assistants, chatbots and machine learning. AI works in four ways:

  • Automated intelligence: Automation of manual/cognitive and routine/non-routine tasks.
  • Assisted intelligence: Helping people to perform tasks faster and better.
  • Augmented intelligence: Helping people to make better decisions.
  • Autonomous intelligence: Automating decision making processes without human intervention.

Featured artificial intelligence content

In this briefing, we provide an overview of the diverse technologies that make up AI, keep you posted on up-and-coming vendors, and explore relevant news and trends. Join us as we track this emerging technology to see how it is broadening—and changing—a variety of industries.


Chris Curran

Principal and Chief Technologist, PwC US Tel: +1 (214) 754 5055 Email

Anand Rao

Global Artificial Intelligence Lead, PwC US Tel: +1 (617) 530 4691 Email