Mikko Laakkonen // May 07 2018
A Brief History and the Future of AI in Business
Business leaders are looking for ways for sharpening their competitive edge and one of the most recent hype megatrends is of course the famously notorious artificial intelligence. Sometimes we might feel overwhelmed with consultants selling us AI strategy roadmap workshops and with having questions about what to do and with whom? Please keep on reading for a brief history of AI and concrete tips for your journey ahead.
50 years ago HAL 9000, the AI Star of a blockbuster movie classic Space Odyssey:2001, amazed and intimidated us in movie theatres across the globe. Very expensive AI supercomputers were built through the decades. Still it took almost 30 years from the times of Space Odyssey for the IBM Deep Blue to win the famous chess challenge against Garry Kasparov.
Today the iPhones in our pockets have more mathematical power than the Deep Blue. On top of that we have cloud computing, GPU-accelerated machine learning powerhouses and it seems that Mr. Moore has finally provided us enough power to create actually working Artificial Intelligence business solutions.
It took years to begin the hype in business but Artificial intelligence is now crashing down from the Peak of inflated Expectations. The good news is that this means it is slowly starting its way up the Slope of Enlightenment towards the Plateau of Productivity. Ditching the consultancy jargon, it means in that artificial intelligence is making its way through from a buzzword to real world business value solutions.
Back in the days when cloud computing was as sexy as AI is today I used to listen to all kinds of excuses why many business decision-makers were in a position where the cloud just would not suit them. Now I am seeing the history repeat itself and the lack of understanding technology in the C-suite is hindering whole businesses’ ability to execute. It’s probably not a good idea to fill every board of directors with millennials yet but at least do keep around trusted advisors with a real competence in understanding the business benefits of modern technology.
AI is not going anywhere, but what do you need to do as a business leader is to start moving forward, into the future in the realm of artificial intelligence.
If you realise that 40% of your customer care contacts are inquiries like “where is this thing I ordered, when will I receive it”, you probably think it might be beneficial to leverage a chatbot to answer some of these queries. And you are correct, you definitely should look into this! Creating or buying an off-the-shelf chatbot could be massively beneficial investment, but it still is a mere scratch to the surface of the massive potential of AI.
Burn AI strategy, kill AI roadmaps with fire
Like so many hype buzzwords before, I am sorry to inform you that AI is not a magic bullet. AI will not do your business for you. Also, AI will not destroy the human race.
Do not create an AI strategy, do not focus on AI roadmaps! Few years ago the industry was talking about cloud strategies. We were all doing some kind of “cloud transformation” just for the sake of this “cloud transformation”. I am seeing a similar kind of trend emerging around AI. My advice is to stop the planning and start doing. Your AI strategy should consist of just having people around who understand what is possible and what isn’t. Build competence and hire the right people!
What you should have is a customer experience centric business strategy with ability to leverage AI solutions to solve problems, where AI is the most beneficial solution. AI is not an automatic all-powerful answer to life, the universe and everything. AI is a means to an end and should be treated as such. It is easy to start creating problems for a solution when you should design solutions to real problems.
When your strategy is in alignment within business and technology, you should find a partner or build internal competence that can help you with AI design and implementation.
It’s all about the data
Few years ago I went to a business meeting with a CIO and a rep of a large tech vendor. The tech vendor was presenting a solution to index all kinds of data from the on-prem storage systems, see what is not frequently used and DESTROY EVERYTHING! The rep presented the case very well, you could save 50% of storage costs and nobody would need the old databases, customer service emails and all that crap anyway. The rep was a very good salesman and I sensed that this innocent CIO was buying into the story. I was horrified and told the CIO to throw this rep out of the door asap. Luckily she trusted me and listened. She has thanked me several times over the years after she started moving their company to more advanced analytics, data-driven decision making and now AI. She has quoted me multiple times:
“It’s better to have the data and not need it than to need the data and not have it”
Now don’t get me wrong, you need to index your data and sometimes even delete stuff (GDPR is here in few weeks from now when I’m writing this). But do not delete it for the sake of saving storage costs, data is one of your most valuable assets. Data is something you have that your competitors might not have.
Can you afford not to jump on the bandwagon? No you can’t but that doesn’t mean that you should floor the pedal to the metal and start speeding to a random direction on the highway. Think big and start small, the important thing is to start now. AI is not a magic bullet and treating it as one will lead to costly mistakes. See you way through the maze of expectations and promises, minimise your risks by staying agile and designing your way to the direction of positive business outcomes. Maximise your potential by being bold but rational. Just do it!