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AI, cognitive computing come of age

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Artificial intelligence (AI) is the new digital frontier businesses need to exploit or risk becoming obsolete. Innovations within this field are already pushing the boundaries of tradition and raising the bar for companies that fail to adapt to change quickly enough.
Greg Cress, digital transformation lead at Accenture Digital, says that consumers are becoming increasingly frustrated at the slowness of companies to infuse AI and digitisation into the customer experience because value is not being unlocked quickly enough.
“The full potential of the customer experience will be revealed when we move to a world where you interact in such a natural way with services that you cannot tell whether you are talking to technology or a human,” he says.
Until now most rollouts of AI have occurred in a linear fashion – providing search results, packaging of data and simplistic robotic answers to requests. But in future this technology will blend into consumer lifestyles so much that it will fill latent needs and perform such a powerful subconscious function that if it were taken away, it would leave a hole that would be noticed immediately.
The next phase for AI relates to its cognitive functionality, which is its ability to orchestrate – to be the central controlling point of execution of multiple simultaneous tasks. Currently, its main function relates to its ability to curate content and be an entry point to finding, collecting and repurposing large amounts of data. The more interesting direction this technology is about to take is that of an adviser and orchestrator of services.
For instance, in the travel industry, when booking an upcoming trip, consumers will receive competitive bids for not just one holiday destination, but all the cheapest holidays within one hour from home if so desired. Or in the communications industry, mobile network service providers may be forced to bid to provide consumers with one gigabyte of data on demand for the next hour. The effect of “Uberisation” of the world, now combined with AI, will continue to turn industries on their heads, and insurance is the next industry ripe for “Uberisation” and AI.
“For example, if you needed to drive to Cape Town, you could buy insurance for just that trip. When you arrive, you won’t need that insurance cover anymore. In this way, the concept of personalised, orchestrated insurance premiums can be offered to consumers on demand,” says Cress.
Once people become aware of the enormous potential changes like these offer, it will be hard to stop the movement onto these platforms. Outdated modes of doing business will be left behind without a second thought and brand loyalty will be constantly challenged through real-time transactions. The preferred technology will begin to blend into everyday lifestyles, becoming mainstream, indispensable yet invisible all at the same time.
According to Accenture’s recent Tech Vision 2017 report, AI’s maturity will come of age in 2017.
“We already see people using these technologies to tackle problems small and large in order to make our lives simpler, more convenient, and of course smarter. However, the next 3-5 years is where it gets interesting as it adapts to the changing needs of the market and begins playing an indispensable role in every aspect of the consumer journey,” says Cress.
For AI to work fluidly behind the scenes as a natural footprint to deliver on and interlink consumer needs, however, it would need to become an invisible user interface.
According to Cress, the major global internet platforms – Google, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon – could be expected to continue to maintain and provide a “bridging layer” between the consumers and the products, as well as services offered to them by organisations. “Companies, I believe, will need to ask how they can better connect with those platforms to improve their own offerings and leverage AI experiences in a way that better serves their customers.”
Tech Vision reveals that 85% of executives report they will invest extensively in AI-related technologies over the next three years and 79% agree that AI will revolutionize the way they gain information from and interact with customers.
“We have a number of very progressive executive thinkers in a country like South Africa and others in Africa, for example, that drive disruption. However, there are still many organisations that seem to be immune to innovation,” says Cress.
It is important to “zoom out” and look at the long-term effect of a digital innovation like AI and the opportunities to reskill and retrain staff, as well as build and partner within the ecosystem. Even starting small, with some basic digital proof of concept projects across cross-sections within an organisation can reap major rewards down the line.
“The opportunity cost of not adapting to the AI revolution is too high: if you’re not harnessing the benefits of this change, someone else is,” concludes Cress.