The era of artificial intelligence (AI) has finally arrived. Consumer applications of AI, in particular, have come a long way, leading to more accurate search results for online shoppers, allowing apps and websites to make more personalized recommendations, and empowering digital assistants activated by voice to understand us better.
As impressive as these uses of AI are, they only hint at how this revolutionary technology will be applied in business. Because the goal of enterprise AI is to help the businesses that drive our global economy learn from their data to become far more resilient, adaptive, and innovative.
We all know that data has enormous potential value, which continues to grow exponentially. In fact, the world creates 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day (i.e. 2.5 followed by 18 zeros). To harness this potential, enterprises need AI to make sense of data and hybrid cloud computing platforms that can distribute it across organizations.
The economic opportunity behind these technologies is enormous, given that companies are only about 10% of the way to realizing the full potential of AI. Fortunately, we are making steady progress, with the number of organizations ready to integrate AI into their business processes and workflows increasing rapidly. A recent IBM study showed that more than a third of companies surveyed use some form of AI to save time and streamline operations.
Take up the challenge of demographic changes. Artificial intelligence, combined with the hybrid cloud, is helping many companies automate some routine business activities and shift people to higher value tasks. In manufacturing, a factory operator can now rely on AI to detect defects invisible to the human eye. In healthcare, AI-enabled virtual agents can handle millions of calls at once. In the energy sector, autonomous robots can use the cloud and AI to analyze data at the edge to improve equipment availability and prevent power outages. Another example: IBM is helping McDonald’s launch an automated drive-thru order-taking experience that benefits both customers and restaurant teams.
Then there is the massive challenge of cybersecurity. The inherent business value of data makes it a prime target for hackers. But with an estimated half a million cybersecurity jobs unfilled in the United States alone, security teams are dangerously small. Today, most data breaches take an average of 287 days to be detected and contained. This is clearly unacceptable. With AI’s ability to analyze threat intelligence at scale, we can help reduce that timeframe to days or even hours.
AI doesn’t just make businesses smarter, stronger and safer; it accelerates scientific discovery. AI can speed up the ingestion of scientific articles and the extraction of knowledge by 1000 times compared to human experts. At the height of the global pandemic, IBM adapted its cloud-based AI platform to sift through thousands of scientific papers on the coronavirus. We then shared relevant data with other members of the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium to accelerate drug design.
As these use cases show, for enterprise AI to be effective, it must also be reliable and explainable. It’s one thing to rely on an AI app to order us dinner. It’s another to have him drive a car or make potential life-and-death recommendations on medical treatment.
For this reason, tech companies need to be clear about who trains their AI systems, what data is used in that training, and most importantly, what went into their algorithm recommendations. Developing responsible and ethical AI requires that we remove any potential for human bias to influence this process.
We also need to recognize that the purpose of AI systems is to augment – not replace – human intelligence. Throughout history, the introduction of new technologies has led to profound changes in the way companies create value while eliminating heavy and repetitive tasks for humans. These include everything from windmills and printing press to steam engine and factory robotics. This is how progress happens. Artificial intelligence will create even greater progress, but only if deployed responsibly.
Businesses have the potential to usher in an unprecedented new era of increased productivity, faster insights, better decision-making, and improved experiences for employees and customers through the combination of AI and hybrid cloud. Given our customers’ enthusiasm for these transformative technologies, the spring of commercial AI can’t come soon enough.