If your company hasn’t yet created a plan for AI and automation throughout your enterprise, you have some work to do. Experts believe AI will add nearly $16 trillion to the global economy by 2030, and 20 percent of companies surveyed are already planning to incorporate AI throughout their companies next year. Now is the time to take a look at the AI and automation trends that I believe will dominate the headlines in 2019—and to think about how you may incorporate them into your own company.
Natural Language Processing—Recognizing and Generating
At the start of last year, nearly 40 million Americans already owned a smart speaker like Amazon Echo. Those who have used them know that natural language processing is improving at a ferocious rate. Alexa is helping people dim lights, turn down their heaters, manage their schedules, and organize their shopping trips—all by AI and voice. I wrote at the beginning of 2018 that machine learning was taking natural language processing to the next level—and it hasn’t stopped yet. At the pace it’s going, we’ll be seeing an even greater interest natural language processing—both in speech recognition and language generation—in the coming year. That means Alexa won’t only be able to understand what we say—she (or other bots) could generate messages or reports on our behalf, as well.
These bots could be near-humans in the not too distant future. Which could lead to other things like empathy-as-a-service. It will be interesting to see how machine learning can harness the power of natural language processing to not just cross things off the to do list, but help improve our lives.
Transparent AI – Improve Consumer Trust
I’d venture to guess that most companies use some form of AI. Whether its for hiring or marketing, companies have hopped on the bandwagon. The issue we are facing now is lack of consumer trust. Now, if you’re not already using AI within your company, this may not be something you’ve thought about much—but it’s definitely something you’ll need to focus on in the coming year as the use of AI grows.
Companies like Stitch Fix use AI and algorithms to make decisions for customers, but lead the customers to believe that a human is making all the decisions. Which isn’t the best decision in my opinion. And as a result, there is growing clamor from the public demanding that AI algorithms become more transparent. What does that mean? Consumers want to know how their information is being used—how decisions are being made—and whether there is bias in those decisions. For instance, in hiring new employees, your company may be asked to make public the algorithm you use for narrowing down your candidate pool. For those in the legal field, you may be asked to share the algorithms used to determine recidivism. This is something that will put power back into the hands of consumers—and something that is 100 percent necessary when it comes to instilling trust (rather than fear) in AI. This is one of the AI and automation trends I’m most excited for. I’m all for seeing transparency improve in 2019.
Convergence with Other Technologies
2019 is the year that AI combined with other technologies like the IoT, ERP solutions, blockchain, and analytics, will be the secret to success for enterprises. Convergence should be a top priority for leaders across industries everywhere. I’m not saying this will be easy in the slightest, but it will pay off. Just one example I’m excited to see is AI combined with data from IoT sensors in the warehouse could improve supply chain management. Using data from sensors all across the business could lead to better data-driven decisions which ultimately could improve the bottomline. This is one of the AI and automation trends worth noting.
Leadership Takes Ownership—and Greater Interest
Another one of the big AI and automation trends: leadership will finally start to realize that they need to be involved—intimately—with their company’s AI strategy in order for it to stick. Research has shown that leaving AI rollout to a specific AI team alone will not gain traction. Yes, you have to involve all segments of the company. But more importantly, as I’ve said numerous times, tech rollout—especially one that will change the dynamics of an entire enterprise—needs to be led from the top. And we’ll see the smartest companies shift in that direction in the coming year.
Also, leadership should focus on making AI a priority in the organization by offering retraining programs. Help employees learn the skills they will need to make the most of the AI programs you’ll be using. Make the investment in the software AND your employees if you want to see the true reward.
AI for Decision-Making
As AI begins to snake its way through the enterprise, we’ll also see an increased openness to AI for automated decision-making. For instance, rather than a customer service rep deciding whether to refund a customer’s purchase, or whether to give a mortgage to a certain applicant, AI will be making those decisions automatically, without consulting human counterparts. This is good and bad news. Anyone whose managed employees knows how exhausting it is to make decisions throughout the workday. What a relief for a robot to take the load. But again—the issue is about transparency. We as consumers need to know what algorithms are used in making those decisions in order to trust the companies using them.
I wish I could tell you there’s still time to get on the AI train. But the truth is, the biggest AI and automation trends of 2019 will be companies without AI getting left behind. In 2019, we’ll see a marked shift in business reality. Failing to incorporate AI and automation soon will be like sleeping your way through digital transformation. Don’t be the unicorn who showed up to the ark a day too late. Much like them, your company could—and most likely will—go extinct.
The original version of this article was first published on Forbes.