Let’s face it, viewing artificial intelligence (AI) simply as a labor-replacement or cost-saving mechanism is boring and uninspired. Let’s start talking about a more expansive view that looks at AI as a catalyst for new ways to build markets and drive new forms of innovation.
AI potentially will enable organizations to expand in ways that were unthinkable with sheer human brainpower, as powerful as that brainpower may be. The advantage AI brings to the table is that many mundane or grunt-work decisions that occupies human decision-makers’ time – such as locating and fixing a data-transfer bottleneck, tracking machine-part performance, or even medical monitoring – is done by machines. In theory, at least, humans’ roles are freed up and elevated to more strategic vistas.
There are a million points in which machines could be making low-level decisions. But at first blush, mitigating human wages and human error rates is the main business case. But is this where AI will really pay off in the long run?
A new survey of 1,600 business and IT executives from Infosys points to AI’s potential beyond cold, hard job replacement, though it’s going to take inspired and entrepreneurial thinking to get past this early stage. So far, it appears AI is more a cost-cutting mechanism, versus a mind-expanding strategy. At the same time, businesses at the forefront of AI say they’re not out to eliminate jobs. It’s a hopeful thought, as 80% of these AI adopters say they don’t intend to use AI to throw people out of work, but, rather, retain and retrain employees to fulfill more elevated capacities while AI systems take on the more routine grunt work aspects of their jobs.
At the same time, AI’s impact on business sectors can’t be ignored. Seventy-one percent of surveyed decision-makers admit that their organization’s sector has been disrupted, or expect it to soon be disrupted, by AI technologies. So the pressure is on. AI as a cost-cutting tool may get a business so far, but it’s going to take more visionary uses of AI to get to the next level.
The majority of decision-makers (71%) believe that business-to-consumer is the model that is most likely to be impacted by AI and almost all (97%) feel that there are “customer benefits to be had from the adoption of AI.” They see AI as helping in the creation of new, improved products, services and business models (55%) and in giving faster access to existing ones (55%). Half also feel that AI can help with the quicker resolution of problems (50%) and over two fifths (42%) say it can help with greater personalization.
Two-thirds of decision-makers also believe AI will “bring out the best in their organization’s people.” Most respondents seem optimistic about redeploying displaced employees with higher-value work. The majority, 85%, plan to train employees about the benefits and use of AI, and 80% of companies replacing roles with AI technologies will retrain or redeploy displaced employees.
To get the most out of AI, executives want to see the level and sophistication of skills rise, including active learning (58%), complex problem-solving (53%) and critical thinking (46%) to be key. Creativity (46%) and logical reasoning (43%) also come into play, “highlighting a growing need for employees who can learn quickly, think on their feet and overcome problems efficiently in order to succeed in an AI-driven environment,” the report states.
But these are the very early days of AI, executives agree. The vast majority (90%) say their organizations’ employees face challenges or concerns relating to AI adoption. Only one in 10 of those surveyed whose organization has deployed AI technologies believe that their organization is fully maximizing the current available benefits and capabilities of AI, and fewer than two in 10 (18%) think that their organization is well ahead of their competitors regarding the use of AI.
More than half (51%) admit that cost reduction is the area where AI is delivering first. The benefits experienced so far include automating processes and tasks (46%), cost savings (44%), increasing productivity (44%), and increasing revenue (39%).