The age of artificial intelligence (A.I.) is finally upon us. Consumer applications of A.I., in particular, have come a long way, leading to more accurate search results for online shoppers, allowing apps and websites to make more personalized recommendations, and enabling voice-activated digital assistants to better understand us.
As impressive as these uses of A.I. are, they only hint at how this game-changing technology will be applied in business. Because the goal of business A.I. is to help the companies that drive our global economy learn from their data to become vastly more resilient, adaptive, and innovative.
We all know there is tremendous potential value in data, which continues to grow exponentially. In fact, the world is creating 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day (that’s 2.5 followed by 18 zeros). To harness that potential, companies need A.I. to make sense of the data, and hybrid cloud computing platforms that can distribute it across organizations.
The economic opportunity behind these technologies is enormous, given that business is only about 10 percent of the way to realizing A.I.’s full potential. Fortunately, we are making steady progress, with the number of organizations poised to integrate A.I. into their business processes and workflows growing rapidly. A recent IBM study showed that more than a third of the companies surveyed were using some form of A.I. to save time and streamline operations.
Take the challenge of demographic shifts. A.I., in conjunction with hybrid cloud, is helping many companies automate certain routine business activities, and move people to higher-value work. In manufacturing, a factory floor operator can now rely on A.I. to detect defects that are invisible to the human eye. In health care, A.I.-enabled virtual agents can handle millions of calls at once. In the energy sector, autonomous robots can use cloud and A.I. to analyze data at the edge to improve equipment uptime and prevent power outages. Another example: IBM is helping McDonald’s launch an automated order-taking drive-thru experience that benefits both customers and restaurant crews.
Then there is the massive challenge of cybersecurity. The inherent business value of data makes it a prime target for hackers. But with about a half-million unfilled cybersecurity jobs in the U.S. alone, security teams are stretched dangerously thin. Most data breaches today take an average of 287 days to detect and contain. That is clearly unacceptable. With A.I.’s ability to analyze threat information at scale, we can help reduce that timeline to a few days or even hours.
A.I. is not only making businesses smarter, stronger, and safer; it is also accelerating scientific discovery. A.I. can speed the ingestion of scientific papers and the extraction of knowledge by 1,000x compared with human experts. At the height of the global pandemic, IBM adapted our cloud-based A.I. platform to comb through thousands of scientific papers about the coronavirus. We then shared relevant data with fellow members of the Covid-19 High Performance Computing Consortium to speed up drug design.
As these use cases show, for business A.I. to be effective it must also be trustworthy and explainable. It is one thing to rely on an A.I. application to order dinner for us. It is quite another to have it drive a car or make potentially life-or-death recommendations about a course of medical treatment.
For this reason, technology companies must be clear about who trains their A.I. systems, what data is used in that training, and, most important, what went into their algorithm’s recommendations. Developing responsible, ethical A.I. requires that we remove any potential for human bias to influence this process.
We must also recognize that the purpose of A.I. systems is to augment–not replace–human intelligence. Throughout history, the introduction of new technologies has led to sea changes in the way businesses create value while eliminating burdensome and repetitive tasks for humans. These include everything from windmills to the printing press to the steam engine and factory robotics. This is how progress happens. Artificial intelligence will create even greater progress, but only if it is deployed responsibly.
Businesses have the potential to usher in a new and unprecedented era of greater productivity, faster insights, better decision-making, and enhanced employee and customer experiences through the combination of A.I. and hybrid cloud. Given the enthusiasm of our clients for these transformative technologies, the business A.I. spring can’t come soon enough.