We’re at a tipping point in history, but the potential in our situation is also palpable.
Smart technology has been disruptive. Artificial intelligence (AI) is growing exponentially, creating radical change in how we live, work and play. Every country and industry feels its reverberations. Whole systems of production, management and governance are changing while we face huge challenges like climate change and a global pandemic. Add ongoing issues like fake news, wealth inequality and bias to the mix.
We need visionary leadership and action to ensure humanity goes in the right direction as we unlock AI’s potential. If we navigate this era wisely, AI will be good for society. Max Tegmark, President of Future of Life Institute, says, “Everything we love about civilization is a product of intelligence, so amplifying our human intelligence with artificial intelligence could help civilization flourish like never before – as long as we keep the technology beneficial.”
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AI is a purpose for humanity
My recent book Democratizing Artificial Intelligence to Benefit Everyone examines the smart technology era, how AI affects every part of our world and how it could benefit everyone.
I believe humanity has a ‘massive transformative purpose,’ a structure to develop a human-centered future, informed by the United Nations’ 2030 vision and sustainable development goals: People, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership.
I also introduce Sapiens – a human-centered AI-driven platform that puts us in control as individuals. It could monetize the data and services of individuals, companies and even countries. Sapiens addresses a big gap: There is no large-scale solution helping us make the most of our lives. The Sapiens AI Assistant helps you optimize your life, get money for data and services and learns from your behavior. It supports lifelong learning, relationships and wellbeing. It gives guidance, makes recommendations and even helps you build character strengths.
Why do we need this? Imagine living in a thriving, uplifting and compassionate society that creates beneficial outcomes for everyone. Smart technology helps this society solve problems and create opportunities. Cities are greener, work is low stress and living more meaningful. Jobs are well-paid, your community is rich in activities and you can easily learn throughout your life. You can focus on quality of life and work with others to further improve society, rewarded for your active participation and positive contributions. I’m developing Sapiens with that future in mind.
How business leaders should respond to AI
AI is progressively disrupting and changing most sectors and business models. It’s activating new markets and future industries.
Global management consultancy McKinsey estimates AI will add 13 trillion US dollars to the global economy over the next decade. In my experience developing AI software over two decades, business is getting better at gathering and responding to data, transforming customer retention, productivity and quality. Increased computing power, data storage and processing capability have all helped.
Markets are evolving. We see faster, scalable marketplaces, more informed consumers and leaner operations. Advances in AI are birthing new industries and customer segments. Senior executives must make fast, strategic shifts to monetize new opportunities and adapt models as AI adoption spawns new industries.
Early examples of new AI-driven market segments include recommendation-driven entertainment streaming and GPS-driven ride-sharing. We’ve seen tremendous increase in start-ups using AI, with investment growing 18-fold in six years.
AI applications today mainly optimize business processes in existing industries like customer support, logistics and supply chain management. But the biggest economic benefits of AI will be in solving complex problems that could start new industries. Business leaders must keep track of machine learning developments to spot trends and react.
AI in cybersecurity
Cyberattacks can target all businesses, with aims ranging from customer data theft to corporate espionage. IT security economics research by Kaspersky saw the average cost in 2020 of resolving a data breach for an enterprise exceeds $1 million, and more than $100k for small- to medium-sized businesses.
Large data breaches can leak the data of millions of people, opening the door for further cybercrime and fraud.
AI will play an increasingly important role in protecting businesses from cyberthreats, with security tools analyzing data from millions of threats and using it to identify threats like ransomware and phishing as they become more sophisticated.
Staying up to date with AI-based cybersecurity tools and using them to assist security teams helps keep businesses safe from increasingly potent cyberattacks. AI-driven cybersecurity learns how humans react, helping a business become better prepared to face future threats.
Personalized engagement for consumer-facing businesses
Consumer-facing businesses must offer personalized customer experiences at scale. Tech giants like Amazon, Google and Alibaba have led the way. Machine learning can accurately predict customer needs by building rich, real-time profiles as we interact with websites and virtual assistants. Accenture says investment in AI and human-machine collaboration could boost retail revenue by 38 percent.
As we flick through Netflix recommendations or search on Google, AI calculations happen in data centers, with our devices communicating their results to us. This will change as machine-learning algorithms become more efficient and capable of running on low-power devices at the ‘edge’ (known as edge computing.)
Future AI applications in money and finance
AI has already had an enormous impact on the financial services sector. Mordor Intelligence estimated AI in fintech was worth nearly 8 billion US dollars in 2020, predicting its value will triple by 2026.
AI-automated processes are reducing costs, increasing productivity and preventing fraud. AI could offer personalized engagement for the growing number switching to mobile, in-app transactions. It would provide another possible route for cyberattack and financial fraud, but AI can help address these risks too.
Intelligent virtual assistants for banking, powered by messaging platforms, mobile devices or voice assistants, could give convenient, easy customer service for everything from account balances to loan inquiries.
My company, South African AI business Cortex Logic, envisages major banks using AI-driven models to optimize home loan prices in a dynamic and personalized way. In this industry, slight increases in market share are of high value. US residents take out 4.4 trillion US dollars in home mortgages each year. By mining structured and unstructured data, banks can better segment and personalize home loan price positioning.
Predicting and preventing loss of customers to the competition is another AI application for consumer-facing businesses in many industries. It’s always cheaper to prevent an existing customer from leaving than to gain a new one.
AI-powered stock and share trading could use new data sources like satellite imagery relevant to commodity prices and social media sentiments around brands. These could complement established market signals like company performance and news sentiments to optimize investment portfolios.
AI-enabled education, healthcare and wellness
AI ultra-personalized solutions present a way to use smart tech for a fairer world. McKinsey estimates in the US AI-powered solutions could save 300 billion US dollars a year in healthcare costs. While in the UK, AI-driven preventive care could save 3.3 billion pounds yearly in decreased hospital admissions. These preventative care solutions also forecast disease spread and identify high-risk groups.
Developing one new drug costs around 2.6 billion US dollars, but almost 90 percent of proposed therapies fail between first-phase trials and regulatory approval. AI-based solutions are helping speed up developing treatments and making them more cost-effective.
AI’s impact on society, government and the public sector
AI is transforming the public sector with improved delivery, efficiency and safety. Many governments see AI as a game-changer and are putting policies in place to smooth its way.
Professional services giant Deloitte’s Center of Government Insights report examines how AI can redesign public sector work. For the US federal government alone, task automation could mean savings of 3.3 to 41 billion US dollars (depending on the type of task being sped up and to what extent).
Debates around AI’s future
AI’s progress and future direction are hotly debated. Everyone wants to ensure its path is ethical, transparent and beneficial.
We’re getting better at understanding the complexity and inner workings of AI. We must now develop a thorough understanding of where it’s going. How will AI affect our ability to exercise free will? How will it impact our evolution and long-term survival?
There are concerns about using AI for surveillance, including tech giants, corporates and governments using it to control, manipulate or profit. Other concerns center around how bias in data can make AI unreliable. Solutions to potential negative impacts include developing policies to ensure AI is directed at the common good.
Skills for a human-centered AI-driven workplace
OECD’s Future of Education and Skills 2030 report recommends students develop three competencies they’ll need to shape a healthy and sustainable future: Creating new value, reconciling tensions and dilemmas, and taking responsibility.
University of Phoenix’s Institute of the Future outlines ten work skills crucial for success in the future workplace in their Future Work Skills 2020 report, including sense-making: finding deeper meaning and significance in information and novel and adaptive thinking: coming up with solutions and responses beyond rules. AI is a vital companion to support people to thrive in the future of work.
Democratizing AI is a multi-faceted problem. It’s not only dependent on the progress of tech and policy making, but excellent collaboration between the public and private sector, academia and global organizations. We need a strategic plan to ensure we use AI for good outcomes. We must democratize AI throughout the lifecycle starting with its development before deployment and use. We must build human-compatible, ethical and trustworthy AI and address bias and discrimination.
With the accelerating pace of AI-driven automation and its impact on work, we must become lifelong learners. We need to make proactive choices as opportunities shift and target areas where we can make meaningful contributions. That way, we’ll shape a better future together in the smart technology era.