The face-off between man and technology has lasted throughout history. From the first striking of stones to produce fire to the making of metal works, man has struggled to tame technology or machine, if you please.
The invention of the computer only served to bring the battle closer home. There has always been the fear that one day the computer (machines) would among other things, take jobs, change the world and maybe even take over the world and rule man.
This fear has persisted.
A deep and often unspoken fear is that the end is near when machines begin to think. And thinking machines is precisely what artificial intelligence (AI) is all about. The emergence of thinking computers therefore only served to heighten that fear.
Consider when the World chess champion, Garry Kasparov, faced the first thinking machine, an IBM supercomputer called Deep Blue. The first match was played in Philadelphia in 1996 and won by Kasparov. The rematch was played in New York City in 1997 and won by Deep Blue. The 1997 match was the first defeat of a reigning world chess champion by a computer under tournament conditions. When Deep Blue took the match by winning the final game, Kasparov refused to believe it.
It was an epic moment. It sent shock waves around the world. Naturally, there were controversies. Some argued that everything was done to make the battleground comfortable for the machine, it was chilled to like we say in Nigeria, mortuary temperature.
The truth be told, computer scientists had for decades viewed chess as a meter stick for artificial intelligence. Garry’s defeat, in many circles, meant that humans were entering the age of the machines.
Since that time, so much has happened. Computers have since grown so much more powerful. In fact, today, we have apps on our mobile phones that are far more powerful than Deep Blue. Thinking computers are everywhere. Welcome the age of Artificial Intelligence!
To understand what AI is and how it works, let’s hear the experts:
“AI is the use of intricate logic or advanced analytical methods to perform simple tasks at greater scale in ways that mean we can do more at large scale with the workers we have, allowing them to focus on what humans are best at, like handling complex exceptions or demonstrating sympathy.” –Whit Andrews, vice president and distinguished analyst with Gartner Research.
“AI is a mathematical and algorithmic model that allows computers to learn to do tasks without being explicitly programmed to do those tasks.” –Timothy Havens, the William and Gloria Jackson Associate Professor of Computer Systems in the College of Computing at Michigan Technological University and director of the Institute of Computing and Cybersystems.
Today, AI is becoming more pervasive. It is already in use in several sectors, particularly the financial service and marketing spheres. Reports indicate that the demand for AI-enabled initiatives would continue to increase in the coming days.
It is interesting to note that AI is rapidly making its way into the workplace. Today it touches customer care, staff recruitment and consumer insights and marketing. Tomorrow, it would reach and cover more business segments.
In spite of this, mentioning AI in the workplace still produces fear – particularly for job security. Until recently, people predicted that the automation brought by AI would render many job functions redundant. Currently, thankfully, the fear that AI will lead to redundancy has reduced with experts re-evaluating their perspective.
The truth is that AI is not replacing jobs. On the contrary, reports show that it is targeting specific tasks, improving and making them easier and faster. According to PWC, “72% of business decision-makers consider AI as a key tool for allowing humans to focus on more meaningful work.” Precisely!
So, while AI will eliminate certain types of jobs, it would create others. It will limit some functions, expand others and definitely restructure some industries and realign others. Overall, there would be net job gain.
AI will bring good and bad. Individuals and businesses must explore how they can use it for good. Take advantage of its potential to improve productivity, boost capacity and increase revenue.
As Red Hat technologist Gordon Haff wrote, “AI projects in the past have often tried to boil the ocean – to solve multi-faceted problems like self-driving cars. Today’s enterprise AI projects are more practical, often focusing on customer experience pain points. “What’s happening with AI today is exciting in part because it involves practical solutions that address complexity, the need to handle more and more data, and demanding customers,” Haff noted.
Evidently, the use of AI in business will continue to grow. In its current iteration, AI is significantly more practical, more useful, and more impactful. Its definition as the technology that allows computers to do things that were once only the domain of humans, is proving truer each day. For example, computers have always been able to calculate, today, with AI, they can learn and draw conclusions.
AI is essentially a thinking machine. It thinks by learning and making deductions from the data available to it.
To work, AI needs data. It consumes data in order to learn. Big data refers to the massive sets of data that are now available and to all intents and purposes suited for this purpose. These sets of data can be analyzed by machines. This can reveal patterns and trends, and facilitate making future predictions. With big data, AI is in its element.
It is no surprise therefore that AI and Big Data are already driving the provision of new, innovative and efficient services, particularly in the financial sector.
In Nigeria, some fintechs are already adopting AI and Big Data. Take Renmoney. With AI and big data, it has unprecedented customer insight so that it is able to assess and disburse loans much faster, deliver incredible and efficient customer experience and indeed broaden the scope of its operations.
In adopting AI, firms demonstrate their commitment to executing what is truly a data-driven strategy. AI will enable organisations to make optimal use of data. In the age of social media, data is everywhere. To be able to gather and harness it would be tremendous. AI is helping to create the business of the future.
Elvis Eromosele, a Corporate Communication professional and public affairs analyst lives in Lagos.