People 'n' Issues

AI will be like R2-D2, not Terminator

March 24th, 2017
As artificial intelligence continues to capture the imagination of the tech and mainstream media, Forrester’s new AI TechRadar report for customer intelligence professionals (CI) takes a pragmatic view of what it can do for business in the future.
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Well publicised breakthroughs from major tech companies, like Google, Apple and Amazon, have placed AI high on the technology agenda. However, business leaders are struggling to make sense of how this technology could and should be deployed in their organisations.

“To put it mildly, this is confusing for businesses, who are trying to determine what is real and what is mere snake oil,” writes Forrester senior analyst and co-author of the report, Brandon Purcell. “Forrester believes AI will significantly disrupt the way organisations win, serve, and retain customers… eventually. To do this, it will take massive amounts of data to train artificially intelligent systems to perform their jobs well enough to replace their human counterparts.”

In the report, Forrester points out that as storage and processing power advances, AI is gaining some traction amongst businesses, allowing companies to generate insights and engage with their customers.

Forrester says AI is uniquely suited to help optimise customer interactions across touchpoints and channels. This is largely driven by the technology’s ability to process huge amounts of data, which can inform real time action. Moreover, in the near future, business leaders will be able to blend technologies such as facial scanning, text analytics, machine learning, and natural language generation (NLG) to better engage with their customers.

AI also has the ability to surface insights automatically, with banks today already using such technologies to detect anomaly for fraudulent transactions. Combing through massive data sets will also allow for better data analysis, particularly when it comes to unstructured data.

Despite these early successes, Purcell believes that it may take time and work before the real benefits of AI will be realised.

“AI is not a homogenous set of technologies, and some tasks will take longer to automate than others. And, despite the fact that the goal of AI technology is to free humans from some intelligence tasks so that they may more effectively focus on others, the process of creating this state has significant challenges for human designers and engineers,” Purcell comments in the report.

One of the main challenges facing the adoption of AI into mainstream business is the lack of a clear business case. Forrester points out that the research and academic communities were the first to develop and deploy AI technologies, and businesses are only now jumping onto the bandwagon. Organisations still require a clear ROI to justify an AI investment.

Time and skills are also potential hurdles. Artificially intelligent systems require massive amounts of training data to learn to perform specific tasks. While some vendors offer pre-trained solutions, even these will require many additional hours of training and refinement before they can be deployed.

When it comes to skills in the field, Forrester says there is a clear dearth of talent. “If data scientists are unicorns, then specialists in AI are their even more rarely mentioned winged cousin, Pegasus,”  comments Purcell in the report. “There are a handful of notable researchers in academia who specialise in deep learning and AI, but the talent pool for businesses is extremely shallow. Additionally, since AI adoption for businesses is so nascent, there are even fewer people with the ability to deploy AI in a business context.”

Making use of its TechRadar methodology, Forrester identified and analysed the current and future prospects of 12 AI technologies and solutions in their comprehensive report. According to the analysis, the company placed two technologies in the Creation phase, six in the Survival phase, and four in the Growth phase. None were placed in the Equilibrium or Decline phases due to the relative immaturity of AI, with the company saying that, when it comes to AI, “…we are still in chapter one.”

Summing up the analysis, Forrester points out that, despite many doom-mongers, AI will not be a threat to most jobs. While there may be some losses in the call centre and other positions, for the most part, AI will free employees from banal or onerous tasks with little value-add. The report also assures readers that there is no imminent rise of the machines about to take place and that humankind is not facing an immediate threat from AI. In fact, it is the role of the Customer Intelligence leader to separate the myth from reality.

As part of its extensive AI research and analysis, Forrester has also completed a TechRadar report on AI for application development and delivery professionals.

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