While there was much investor and media interest in Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence at the 2017 Fortune Brainstorm Tech Conference this week, I believe a far more accessible aid for business is emerging: assisted intelligence.
The reason? If you pose the right problems to be solved by engaging artificial intelligence, a capability that learns by itself to sort through massive data stores and apply really cool algorithms can certainly make decisions faster, sort through more influencing factors, and generate a wealth of potential outcomes weighted by benefit and likelihood. Not to mention use cases for embedding in devices, machines, networks, robots and software of all types.
But how many CEOs understand the right use case for applying AI? Fortune 500 companies certainly have the resources to figure out use cases. For example, Jamie Miller, CEO of GE Transportation, discussed this idea in the session The Next Industrial Revolution. She described how GE uses AI in software for optimizing train routing. But how many businesses can harvest AI to transform their entire business model? By number, most businesses are of small and medium size. How many can actually hire data scientists to frame and iterate problem sets in a way that will help them grow?
Assisted Intelligence as a Helping Hand
During the AI roundtable at the Fortune event, panelists and audience members alike evangelized the case that AI will be embedded everywhere in every business or will have robots and such replace their people. Pushback came as people discussed the relevance in SMBs with hands-on businesses. In addition, noted researcher and fellow at MIT, Michael Schrage, put forth the role alternative mathematical tools better suited for solving problems with sparse data sets where iteration comes into play. My questions to the group were: Won’t a most decisive application for AI come from accelerating disruptive business models? By sorting through ideas faster to bring viable long-tail opportunities to scale? Just as Amazon scaled faster than Wal-Mart, or Google vs. Microsoft, there will be great power from AI-assisted business intelligence in sharpening and scaling the next wave of digital disruptors.
In the book, The Second Machine Age, co-author Erik Brynjolfsson offered evidence for the advantage of interactive intelligence, whereby the best but standalone AI engine will lose to a teaming approach, where people with a less capable AI engine interact. So why not put AI to work today to enhance your business model, even if you are not embedding AI in your product offerings or your factories directly? In comments during the User Experience is Everything session, Diego Rodriquez, Global Managing Director at IDEO, the design thinking firm, saw the use of AI to enhance people’s capabilities. So, let’s put AI enabled tools in the hands of the management and their teams, from merchants to marketers, from logisticians to factory managers!
My key takeaway is this: Assist their intelligence, don’t replace it!
In my follow-up post later this week, I’ll advise on five principles you can implement to build an Intelligence Factory for your business.