In June, researchers at MIT and Brown University revealed their latest creation: Northstar. The system uses artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to allow users to effortlessly work with data within their organizations.
Possible use cases are already promising. According to TechCrunch, Northstar can help doctors interpret patterns in patients’ medical histories to help them get better care.
For small business owners who could never afford to hire a dedicated data scientist, Northstar can help unlock hidden data, empowering businesses to create more accurate forecasts that support healthy growth.
Northstar also exemplifies a truth that is often overshadowed in debates over whether AI is a threat to businesses’ reliance on human intelligence.
Today, AI is more likely to support human intelligence than replace it.
AI Helps Businesses Reap “Low Hanging Fruit”
Businesses have countless tasks that consume hours of staff time. Often, these low-effort, high-volume tasks drain energy, distract from big picture strategy, and even threaten morale.
Harvard Business Review refers to these tasks as the “low hanging fruit” AI can reap.
Despite executives’ grand plans for AI transformation, these repetitive tasks are the bedrock of successful AI adoption, “typically bring[ing] a quick and high return on investment.”
Best of all, these repetitive tasks rarely change over time, meaning the AI won’t require continuous training with new data sets. AI companies do not have to constantly add new updates to older technology.
For example, most retail stores require managers to calculate daily sales.
At some stores, managers rely on cumbersome spreadsheets or even fill in paperwork by hand to calculate how a store is performing. It’s not only time consuming, but prone to mistakes.
By contrast, retailers could implement an AI tool that uses historic data to estimate where daily sales should fall.
Armed with a smart forecast, store managers could easily set daily targets or know if sales are falling short.
With more free time, managers could focus on training employees, refreshing displays, or preparing for new sales or promotions.
The bottom line: Investing in AI allows human operators to focus on bigger, more complex problems, freeing them to focus on creative work. This might come at the cost of jobs like data entry, but it’s also likely to create jobs that are more stimulating and engaging.
AI’s Limitations Mean Human Input Still Needed
With today’s AI best suited for simple tasks, the truly valuable, advanced AI businesses crave still requires plenty of human assistance.
The reason? AI can’t advance unless it’s continuously trained with new data, which must be gathered and cleaned up by human employees.
“It is this continuous learning throughout the life cycle of processes that provides the ever-increasing benefits that businesses expect,” notes The Next Web.
Before there’s even data for AI systems to process, however, someone has to decide what data is relevant to collect in the first place and how it supports an overall business strategy.
These big picture questions are what the Aurecon, a global engineering firm, calls the “why” and “what if” questions needed to design AI-driven systems.
While it’s easy to be dazzled by the promise of AI, companies can’t lose sight of the fact that they will need employees to manage data strategically and realize AI’s true potential. AI companies can help businesses understand how best to implement AI into their own workflows.
In the Future, AI Might Require Less human Involvement
By definition, AI systems should be able to evolve as companies’ needs change over time.
Consider IPsoft’s Amelia tool: it’s capable of adapting to nearly a dozen languages and numerous messaging platforms.
Companies can use the tool differently if needs shift seasonally or consumers’ communication preferences change, all while working from an ever-growing database of user interactions.
This type of incremental change, in which businesses gradually find more and more uses for AI, is most likely to define AI’s immediate future.
But in the slightly more distant future, AI might become increasingly capable of tackling tasks that require a human-like sense of judgment.
Cisco reports that an AI tool called AlphaGo shows promise.
In 2016, the tool took control of a Google data center that was normally run by human operators. AlphaGo successfully drove the center’s cooling bill down by 40%, thanks to its ability to automatically optimize energy efficiency.
This AI-powered vision of the future will likely come to fruition, but it’s not likely to happen this year.
AI and Human Intelligence Provide Value
The debate over whether human or artificial intelligence is more valuable to businesses has lost sight of the reality we’re currently living in.
There might come a day when your colleagues will be fully replaced by high-functioning AI–but until then, companies can rely on humans for managing AI tools with creativity, intelligence, and strategic insight.
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