Artificial intelligence is typically depicted as either the end of the world as we know it, with robots taking all of our jobs, or the ultimate solution to all of our problems. Either way It’s ironic that such a complex technology provokes such a binary response, because as anyone who actually works with AI will tell you, the truth is both less dramatic yet more relevant to the here and now.
So where and how will AI make its impact felt first? I predict it will rapidly gain traction in these three areas:
1. Decision support
When people contend that AI will deprive people of their jobs, they are confusing the technology with automation. But according to Gartner, “2020 will be a pivotal year in AI-related employment dynamics, as artificial intelligence (AI) will become a positive job motivator.... AI will create 2.3 million jobs in 2020, while eliminating 1.8 million.”
“Unfortunately, most calamitous warnings of job losses confuse AI with automation,” says Gartner analyst Svetlana Sicular. “That overshadows the greatest AI benefit —AI augmentation— a combination of human and artificial intelligence, where both complement each other."
One example of this is decision support in an expanding global market, as businesses are continually tasked with delivering more, more quickly and with fewer resources.
One consequence of rapid globalization is that the demand for products and services can instantaneously shift in markets across the world. Imagine a manufacturing company that sells products in 50 markets. A sudden increase in raw material prices in one region can impact demand in another. Using historical data, AI can take a large number of factors into account simultaneously and help develop a plan to respond to demand shifts with new pricing.
With very large sets of data from multiple markets, it may be hard for people to pinpoint what is actually important. AI can help detect anomalies and patterns, alerting its human operators when the data falls outside certain parameters. For example, based on past actions and specified priorities, AI-enhanced business software could formulate a daily list of the five most urgent situations that require some sort of action.
People, in the meantime, are masters of soft skills like creativity and empathy, and are much better at judging human reactions and their consequences. Finding the right balance between what humans and machines do best will be crucial to determining how AI and people can best work together.
2. Equipment maintenance and service
High-profile AI applications like driverless trucks always grab headlines. In reality, at most companies AI is likely to have a bigger impact on how the truck is maintained and serviced.
AI is destined to play a major role in maintenance in many industries. For manufacturing operations, McKinsey found that AI-enhanced predictive maintenance reduces machine failure by combining Internet of Things (IoT) sensor data with and maintenance logs and other data sources. This can increase asset productivity by up to 20 percent and reduce maintenance costs by up to 10 percent.
Asset-intensive industries, like manufacturing or energy, are ideally suited for AI because most equipment is abundantly outfitted with sensors that generate mountains of IoT data from which machine learning algorithms can be built. Using that data, AI can turn maintenance from preventive to truly predictive.
For instance, when the temperature level on an AI-enhanced production line rises beyond levels that have led to problems in the past, a work order can be automatically created for service staff to fix the problem. Such software can even learn how to optimize workforce scheduling to ensure that geographically dispersed equipment is serviced with maximum efficiency.
3. Help desks and contact centers
AI shines when it comes to helping people interact with systems and machines, and AI-powered voice assistants represent a major opportunity for many businesses.
These applications are most successful when they’re used to handle simple queries and large volumes of repetitive transactions. By eliminating the need for any manual intervention, AI chatbots make the process more efficient and can realize significant cost savings.
Some examples include managing sick day and other employee leave requests; employee requests for information and responding to help desk and service calls. The latter is a natural way to deploy AI chatbots, as the calls are often about simple inquiries, such as when the help desk will open or when a certain engineer is due to arrive. An AI-powered approach can not only improve service levels, but also mitigate the growing shortage of people with customer-support skills.
Many contact centers are currently developing omni-channel support solutions that include voice, e-mail, social media and chat as contact options. Looking ahead, AI functions will help identify a customer’s preferred mode of contact and quickly guide them through the process.
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