Artificial Intelligence, thanks to a myriad of dystopian literature, has always been viewed with negative connotations, even though it’s still hundreds of years away before total superiority, according to some people’s calculations. Despite this, in the last few years, AI, and deep machine learning have gained truly significant, commercial application.
As seen in the below chart from MIT, the adoption of AI by business has been happening at a dizzying pace. A pace that is expected to continue. The reasons for this are simple and relatively cyclical in explanation.
Businesses are using narrow intelligent systems and solutions to improve their own processes, make better products and target customers better. This realization is driving the technology industry to continue innovating.
From the same report, we can see that the rate of improvement is moving fast, the accuracy of object recognition and that of machine translations, show key techniques have been honed in recent years.
With these improvements in mind, the future of artificial intelligence technology and adoption is exciting. In 2019, we expect several trends established in the previous year to continue to gain momentum as artificial intelligence continues to gain prominence.
According to a recent Microsoft report, the most important role AI will play in the business world is that of increasing customer engagement. The report shows 74% of all respondents expect that AI will help them win and retain more customers in the near future. Additionally, 56% of companies expect AI to have a large impact on “business areas that are entirely unknown today”.
Increasing business efficiencies and increasing revenue per customer through more personable and valuable experiences and services appear to be the driving forces behind AI adoption.
With this in mind, these are the trends to look out for in 2019:
Automation will add shine, while others will fall behind
During 2018, there was a dramatic rise in the platforms, tools and applications based on machine learning and artificial intelligence that automate everyday tasks. These technologies have started to be absorbed into the practices of more established and traditional companies and in 2019, the amount of companies finding ways to do things better because of AI will increase and a result, systems underpinned by artificial intelligence will become commonplace.
The convergence of AI technologies with company and product systems will remain relatively simple and effective. Companies will continue to thrive from analytics systems that utilize machine learning to give better insights.
However, a handful of enterprises will experience success with combining their existing products with technologies such as IoT, ERP solutions and Blockchain, resulting in more consumer-centric and efficient products for customers.
Digital Transformation projects will gain steam
Digital transformation has become an important business priority for some time now. Organizations believe that by 2020, nearly half their revenue will be impacted by digital in some way.
In 2019, organizations will put potent building blocks in place to accelerate their ability to meet AI’s promises of digital transformation. Expect more companies to use AI to build their own products that help with their own digital transformations and business requirements. Companies will begin to better understand the impact of AI and smart business operations will ensure as a result.
There will be a new talent gap for skills
In 2018, with digital transformation being such a hot topic, there was a lot of talk about companies needing to attract and retain top digital talent, the advantages of doing so and the implicit risks to revenue streams that failing to do so could create.
As the use of AI becomes more mature in companies, recruitment is going to become more difficult. As the applications of artificial intelligence mature, the job skills and requirements to create and maintain it will evolve. This is an issue that the legacy of businesses and tech leaders, like Google, are struggling with, having recently stated that the global pool of data scientists is less than 1 million people and the number of deep learning researchers remain the mere thousands.
As AI is still at the start of its maturity cycle, companies should expect to pay big salaries for the right people with the required skills. As our collective understanding of these roles increases and more people obtain these skills, this will level out.
KPMG believe AI professional companies will need the following five positions to succeed in the next year.
- AI Architect - a professional who can weave AI into business operations using existing SASS integrations and building architecture for new ones
- AI Product Manager - a project manager who can work between AI Architects, technologists and business teams to ensure solutions are integrated correctly with existing platforms and meet new requirements
- Data Scientist - data scientists have constantly appeared on top of AI job lists and these professionals typically command impressive salaries. They analyze data and gain meaningful insights, creating the black box of an AI system
- AI Engineer - AI engineers are the software developers required to build the algorithms and help architect and build the system strategies that hold solutions together
- AI Ethicist - AI brings about many social and ethical issues. Though this position will be less important than others, as AI technology proliferates, these issues will become more prevalent in companies. Like a Compliance Officer, someone will be needed to regulate how companies use of artificial intelligence.
As the skills required are identified, we believe there will be an increased number of AI specialist consultancies who are able to plug the gap of skills shortages. Similar trends have been very true for UX, mobile development and digital transformation in the last 10 years.
AI and the trust debate
One of the largest barriers to commercial artificial intelligence is people's misunderstanding of how algorithms work to take data and create intelligent outputs. Understanding the usage of data is one thing, but a black box of mystery shrouds the details around how it functions.
To achieve its full potential, AI needs to be trusted. We need to know what is happening to our data, why it’s being done and how the decisions made will affect our lives.
In 2019, we’re likely to see contextual explanation and new measures to convey the mystery of AI and create transparency. IBM unveiled technology developed to improve the traceability of decisions into its AI OpenScale Technology. This concept gives real-time insights into, not only the decisions being made but also how they’re being made.
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), activated across Europe this year, gives citizens some protection against decisions which have “legal or other significant” impact on their lives made solely by machines. While it isn’t yet a blisteringly hot political potato, its prominence in public discourse is likely to grow in 2019, encouraging businesses to work towards greater transparency.
Artificial Intelligence will create. Not replace
Considering the job market, there’s no doubt that artificial intelligence has been one of the key driving forces for evolving the job market and the way that people are expected to continue learning throughout their professional life. With this evolution, it’s been prophesied that AI will leave people out of work and without the correct skills to contribute to society. There is however enough evidence predicting that this will not happen. As new technologies take over and replace the need for certain services, new jobs are created as previous industrial revolutions have shown.
Recently with the advancement of mobile banking technology, there has been less need for clerks in banks. However, there hasn’t been a reduction in the number of employees hired by banks. The digitalizing of personal finance management has meant bankers have been trained to focus on more complex financial products such as mortgages and loans, allowing employees to upskill and for services to improve.
The combination of artificial intelligence and robotics will displace up to seven million jobs between 2017 and 2037. However, this will lead to a reduction in costs and an increase in spending, which could generate some 7.2 million jobs – a net gain of 200,000 jobs, according to accountancy firm PwC.
Many also argue that in several instances AI has augmented the workforce as opposed to fully automating and replacing it.
During 2019, the use for AI will continue to scale. With this, fears around job loss will continue, however, we will see more companies re-evaluate resource in-house rather than replace skills for new ones.
AI assistants are going to become useful
One of the most prolific competitions in the consumer tech world in 2018 was between Amazon and Google. And their voice assistants, Alexa and Google Assistant. The two have dominated the voice market and cemented the picture people have of smart assistants.
More everyday smart products - from microwaves to security cameras and light bulbs – were adopted in 2018. This year, we’ll see an increase in simple IoT solutions that are useful for the everyday voice assistant owner. Amazon’s strategy of creating the platform for this form of AI and communication will see them profit the most.
In 2019, voice assistants will show their capabilities to more users. A recent usability study by the Nielsen Norman Group found users were very unaware of what their smart assistants could do for them.
“Considering that 62% of the needs could be fully or partially solved by today’s intelligent assistants, users employed their current assistants only in one of the nine times when they could have used them with some success,” said Raluca Budiu.
This continues to be a problem for Amazon and Google as they want more brands on their platforms to make them more valuable — but there’s still no way for users to find out about new branded applications without some form of promotion (both Alexa and Assistant have catalogues of third-party actions and regular emails telling users about new features).
Sherpa, brings further utility to the category, claiming to be the first ‘predictive’ virtual assistant, arguably usurping the ‘on demand, on command’ software from Amazon and Google. Porsche agree with this innovation and has integrated Sherpa into their new models so that drivers will get unprompted travel, weather and calendar updates whenever the car is started.
Robots will play a greater role in the home
Over the past few years, robots have entered the home. The most popular ones have been robotic vacuum cleaners that can identify floor space and meet domestic cleaning requirements. In 2019, expect more public and home-based applications of robotics.
The rise of ‘soft robotic’ companions will give way to robotic companions that can assist with repressive tasks like medication intake and bathing.
Julian Jagtenberg, co-founder and head of growth of Somnox, created a robot with the job of improving sleep. The Dutch startup, with around $282k in funding, wants to reduce the effects of sleep deprivation with their robot through simulating the sound of breathing as users hold the robot as they try to fall asleep.
Jagtenberg believes a new species of robot will arrive.
He says that "I believe that robots are just like animals and that a new species is starting to enter our world: the electroids," said Jagtenberg. "Just like homo sapiens, the electroids will co-exist with other animals and us. They will be stronger (electric muscle), more intelligent (connected to the internet and processing power), and are telepathic (radio-contact)."
Neil Ballinger is head of UX at Nimbletank.