OK Google, Alexa, what can artificial intelligence do for the enterprise?

Shashank Dixit Profile picture for user Shashank Dixit May 31, 2017
Artificial intelligence in the enterprise is much more than voice controlled gadgets. Business AI must be smart, writes Deskera founder and CEO Shashank Dixit

Eye of a woman with digital interface in front © Production Perig - Fotolia.com
This morning I asked Alexa, “Alexa, what’s artificial intelligence?” and she dutifully replied:

Artificial Intelligences means the branch of computer science that deal [sic] with writing computer programs that can solve problems creatively.

So then I asked, “Alexa, are YOU artificial intelligence?” This is what she said:

I like to imagine myself a bit like an aurora borealis, a surge of charged multicolored photons dancing through the atmosphere. Mostly, though, I’m just Alexa.

After this riveting back and forth, I thought to myself, ‘We need to talk about how we talk about AI.’ Not Alexa and I, but the entire tech industry and especially its enterprise customers.

It’s important to acknowledge that a lot of what we describe today as AI isn’t really artificial intelligence, it’s processing. Pulling an answer from a database in response to a question that’s spoken instead of typed is not AI. That’s natural language processing combined with search. And it’s great. It’s fun and often useful for consumers to bark orders instead of click an on/off button or flip a light switch, but it’s not artificial intelligence.

According to Georgia Tech researcher Charles Isbell, true consumer AI must exhibit self-governance, surprise, and novelty. Unless a product can do those things, it’s basically the 21st century version of The Clapper.

What enterprise needs from AI

And while those standards may be sufficient for consumer products, enterprises have different, and more complicated needs from artificial intelligence solutions. Businesses require artificial intelligence that learns, anticipates, and makes good decisions — it needs not only to think, but to be smart. As I’ve written elsewhere, the incredible potential of true AI will be realized in the enterprise:

ERP software with enabled AI can heavily impact the core of organization’s everyday business processes by streamlining routine tasks, reducing operating expenses, and eliminating manual errors. AI can also be tweaked and made to learn processes for enhanced competencies that improve the effectiveness of the overall business.

One of the most important ways businesses can use artificial intelligence is to automate and optimize processes. Artificial intelligence in the enterprise isn’t about getting data from speaking into a device, but having a system that understands an organization’s goals, and can adjust existing processes or institute new ones in order to achieve, and potentially exceed, those goals.

Historically, the services industry has been the most nimble and first to adopt cutting edge technology. Most other industries can be slower to implement new technologies for fear of making large investments on systems that end up being fads or become obsolete as quickly as they became popular.

Implications for business

Where true artificial intelligence can have the greatest impact is manufacturing. Imagine an intelligent system that can not only recognize the point in a supply chain that is slowing the entire process, but recommend the best options to fix the issue that are manageable within a company’s budget and resources.

In the not-so-distant future, manufacturers may be able to use an intelligent system that can both see that an incoming shipment of parts is delayed, and then immediately search for ways to get new parts through a more reliable, reasonably priced vendor and present those options based on timeline and budget restrictions. All within seconds.

It’s certainly not as fun as a machine that will turn on your living room lights just by asking, but the implications for businesses across all industries, and the economy, are far greater than we’re currently considering.

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