Ready for AI? Why It Doesn't Matter (Part 1)

If even sectors known to be slow adopters are excited, the AI train has left the station. You’re going to have to get on board.

There are rumblings of fear and nervousness about the long-term impact of artificial intelligence (AI). Are we ready? Have we thought through the potential consequences? More and more questions pop up, which is understandable considering AI’s capacity for profound change. But it doesn’t really matter if we’re ready for AI or not. Let’s consider what AI does and how it can work for all businesses as well as in specific industries. It’s Not a Replacement Artificial intelligence is, essentially, algorithm-based software that can “see,” “hear” and “think” in ways that often mimic human processes — but faster and more accurately. It is easy to see why business would not be ready for this. AI can teach you something by looking at your data more deeply and in a less biased way than you would ever be capable of otherwise, and this could sound ominous or threatening to human jobs. But it doesn’t mean a loss of value for humans. Rather, the innately human characteristics of higher-order thinking, of seeing what’s not on the page, and making decisions that account for intangibles, can be applied in far more strategic ways. This is a pretty incredible proposition, one that any business should want to embrace. AI informs and empowers people to do their jobs even better and with greater efficiency. It can also help bring a high degree of personalization to services and products. When fear creeps in, it is important to remember that AI is a tool that humans control. People have the final say. We’re not looking at a “machines will rule the world” scenario. How You Feed the Machine Matters If there is another knock on AI-based technologies, aside from questioning whether AI will replace humans (it won’t, although jobs in the future may look a little different), it’s the issue of bias. Some argue that data generated through AI is inherently biased because humans assign machines to look for and pull out specific elements, and, therefore, human biases have entered the equation. This is not necessarily true; it depends on how you set things up. Many companies feed data into systems and don’t “tell” the machine anything; they let it tell them. With this approach, all bias is eliminated because the data is clean. The human interpretation of resulting data is what then adds bias. See also: Untapped Potential of Artificial Intelligence   For example, if I input all of the addresses and relevant statistics in Chicago, a system will eventually learn which are the high-income areas all on its own, but if I feed the system data that I code as high-income, I’m making the choice. From this perspective, you can think of AI like the lab partner you always wanted who could conduct every experiment perfectly but let you determine how the findings should be applied. The Transformation Has Begun Perhaps the best way to conquer AI apprehension is to look at some of the exciting applications of AI-based software across industries. In healthcare, companies are using AI to match patients with the right doctors at the right time, doctors who, along with researchers and drug companies, are using AI to determine the best, most effective treatments for incredibly complex medical conditions. Faster, more efficient research capabilities powered by AI are saving people’s lives. Local, state and federal governments are using AI for everything from virtual assistants to controlling traffic lights to furthering policy initiatives. And AI is one issue that has received bipartisan support. In 2016, President Obama issued a report titled, “Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence.” The White House stated: “Advances in AI technology hold incredible potential to help America stay on the cutting edge of innovation. Already, AI technologies have opened up new markets and new opportunities for progress in critical areas such as health, education, energy and the environment.” Earlier this year, President Trump unveiled his own American AI Initiative, directing federal agencies to conduct R&D on AI, work with outside researchers, set clear standards and more. As part of its rollout on Feb. 11, Trump noted, “Continued American leadership in artificial intelligence is of paramount importance to maintaining the economic and national security of the United States.” There is also tremendous promise for education, where AI is expected to help schools and teachers accomplish more than ever. With help from AI, schools can make better use of their resources and reduce admin time, while teachers can focus on teaching the way that their students need instead of prescribing to a one-size-fits-all curriculum. See also: 3 Steps to Demystify Artificial Intelligence  I could give even more examples, but you get the point. If even the sectors known to be among the slowest adopters of change are exhibiting a willingness and excitement to put AI to work, the train has left the station. You’re going to have to get on board. In part two of this series, I will dive deeper into why businesses must look beyond what’s happening in the world today when considering what to do about AI. You cannot plan successfully for tomorrow based solely on what is happening today. As first published in Dataversity.

Thomas Ash

Profile picture for user ThomasAsh

Thomas Ash

Thomas Ash is a former senior vice president at CLARA analytics, the leading provider of artificial intelligence (AI) technology in the commercial insurance industry.


Read More