Robots that deliver food. Vacuums that can clean without your help. Smart assistants like Siri and Alexa who can find recipes for dinner, order the ingredients and play just the right music while you cook.
These are just a few of the many examples of how artificial intelligence is changing our lives, both at home and in the business world. Seemingly, it’s everywhere; from marketing and advertising to customer experiences, product innovation, maintenance and more, AI is impacting how we do business, now and in the future, and it’s become even more prominent in light of COVID-19.
“As a result of COVID-19, customers are increasingly looking for digital, no-touch connections with organizations, given the constraints and concerns about physical interactions in a new-normal, socially distanced world,” according to TechRepublic. “Our research shows that even when lockdowns are lifted, customers across the world say they will still be looking to make increased use of touchless interfaces, such as voice interfaces, facial recognition, or apps.”
In this article, learn about common examples of AI in business, how different businesses are embracing artificial intelligence and the issue of ethics that comes hand-in-hand with this type of revolutionary technology.
10 Common Examples of AI in Business
If you have an Alexa device, have used a chatbot to ask customer service a question or have ever wondered why you see so many product advertisements that reflect your hobbies, you’ve come across artificial intelligence. In fact, even if you don’t have smart products or smart assistants in your home or office, there’s a very high chance you’ve interacted with AI since it’s become so prevalent in business.
Paul Daugherty, chief technology and innovation officer at Accenture, said in a recent Salesforce article, “The playing field is poised to become a lot more competitive, and businesses that don’t deploy AI and data to help them innovate in everything they do will be at a disadvantage.”
Here are 10 common examples of artificial intelligence in business. You may be familiar with some (“Alexa, what’s the weather today?”) while others may be just as popular but less obvious.
- Smart products
From lightbulbs to thermostats, there are a host of smart products on the market designed to make your life easier and more efficient, and many are equipped with artificial intelligence.
In August 2020, iRobot, the maker of Roomba, announced “a new AI-powered platform known as iRobot Genius Home Intelligence,” according to The Verge.
Early robot vacuums were effective but couldn’t take direction from humans. You pressed a button, and the vacuum did its job, but now with AI “users can be more specific about what they want.” The company built on and enhanced its room-mapping tool, which allows “even more specific spot-cleaning” as the vacuum navigates the spaces within your home. In addition, Roombas use machine vision and built-in cameras to recognize furniture.
Another smart product, the Ecovacs’ Deebot Ozmo, serves double duty by both vacuuming and mopping floors “and boasts artificial intelligence and visual interpretation (AIVI) technology that allows it to automatically identify and avoid obstacles,” according to PCMag, which includes the Deebot Ozmo on its list of The Best Smart Home Devices for 2020.
- Smart assistants
When it comes to artificial intelligence, this is probably a category you’ve heard about. The most popular smart assistants on the market today include Alexa, Siri, Cortana and Google Assistant; they offer a variety of skills and services, which enables you to use your voice to:
- Control smart home technology and devices (such as plugs, thermostats, etc.)
- Access your calendar and other personal information
- Search for information online (restaurant reviews, recipes, etc.)
- Make phone calls and send text messages
- Place orders for products and have them delivered
- Set up reminders — and much more
Amazon’s Alexa has more than 70,000 skills, including Jeopardy trivia, guided meditation, the ability to track your food, movie recommendations and much more. The “Opening Bell” skill allows you to ask for a company’s most recent stock price and the “MySomm” skill tells you about wine and food pairings.
“Anything you can do on your phone, you can probably ask your virtual assistant to do for you,” explains Lifewire. “Even better, virtual assistants can learn over time and get to know your habits and preferences, so they’re always getting smarter. Using artificial intelligence, virtual assistants can understand natural language, recognize faces, identify objects, and communicate with other smart devices and software.”
Statista estimates there are currently 4.2 billion digital voice assistants being used around the world, with the number doubling to 8.4 billion units by 2024.
- Helpdesk chatbots
UC Today defines a chatbot as “a computer program that’s designed to simulate human conversation.” It’s important to note that an actual human is not behind the chatbot, but the interaction mimics real-life conversation. Users communicate through a chat interface or through speaking, and the chatbots interpret the words and provide a pre-set response.
According to UC Today, there are three common kinds of chatbots:
- Rule-based – The bots provide pre-determined answers to specific questions.
- Intelligence – These use machine learning to obtain information from the user; they are trained to understand words and phrases and improve over time as they understand more questions.
- AI-powered – These bots are a combination of the first two and can “remember the context of conversations and understand user preferences. These bots use a combination of natural language processing, machine learning, and AI to understand customers.”
SmallBizGenius estimates that chatbots can slash operational costs by up to 30% and that 85% of interactions with consumers will be handled without humans by 2021. “Chatbots have become very popular because they save time and resources by automating customer support services. In this way, human agents can focus on solving more complex problems.”
- Facial recognition technology
Here is an explanation of how facial recognition works from Norton: Your face is captured in a photo, and facial recognition software reads the geometry of your face. Key factors include the distance between your eyes and the distance from your forehead to your chin. The software identifies “facial landmarks,” and the result is your “facial signature,” which is a mathematical formula that’s compared to a database of known faces.
Facial recognition is used by many organizations and for a variety of reasons, including:
- U.S. government at airports
- Law enforcement
- Social media companies, such as Facebook
- Marketers and advertisers
- Personalized recommendations
Have you ever browsed a website only to discover product suggestions that are similar to what you’re looking for?
As WooCommerce explains, “a personalized product recommendation isn’t based on an assumption or guess. Personalized recommendations are based on user behavior. These are items that have been frequently viewed, considered, or purchased with the one the customer is currently considering.”
For example, Amazon offers “frequently bought together” and “customers who viewed this item also viewed …” features in addition to personal recommendations based on previous purchasing or browsing behavior.
“Customers crave personalization,” according to Forbes. “73% of consumers prefer to do business with brands that take their personal preferences into account.”
- Personalized advertising and marketing messaging.
This is similar to the previous category of personalized recommendations, but advertising and marketing messaging is a bit different.
Here’s an example: Let’s say you’re browsing Bed Bath & Beyond for a new coffee pot. You research different products, and later when you’re on another site, you see Bed Bath & Beyond advertisements for coffee pots. Sound familiar?
MarTech Advisor explains it this way: “A website visitor will spend time browsing products, clicking links, exploring different catalog pages, and adding/removing items from the cart. This behavior can reveal valuable insights for e-commerce marketing. The AI personalization engine analyzes visitor behavior and re-targets ads accordingly.”
- Predictive Maintenance
Artificial intelligence can help companies repair or replace parts or machinery before something breaks.
According to Uptake, “predictive maintenance uses data from various sources like historical maintenance records, sensor data from machines, and weather data to determine when a machine will need to be serviced. Leveraging real-time asset data plus historical data, operators can make more informed decisions about when a machine will need a repair. Predictive maintenance takes massive amounts of data and through the use of AI and predictive maintenance software, translates that data into meaningful insights and data points — helping you avoid data overload.”
- Fraud detection
As much as AI is being used by businesses to enhance the consumer experience, it’s also being employed in the ever-growing realm of fraud detection.
For example, the IBM Watson Studio provides the ability to automate tasks “with more advanced tools such as deep learning and neural networks,” which can help users detect and prevent fraud.
“Banks are now deploying machine learning models that can detect suspicious transactions in almost real-time, stop it immediately from happening, and alert the authorities,” according to Deltec. “Companies like Teradata and Datavisor provide specialized AI-based financial fraud detection solutions to banks. In fact, Datavisor claims that its solution can detect 30% more fraud with 90% accuracy.”
- Customer relationship management (CRM) systems
In some circles there is strong concern that artificial intelligence will replace the need for human employees. While there’s certainly a bit of truth to that mindset depending on the industry and company, “the belief that artificial intelligence signals the demise and replacement of the human sales function entirely, is tremendously short-sighted,” according to Forbes, which explains that AI “promises to enhance, not replace, the human component of sales.”
When it comes to CRMs, AI can be used with data and integration in addition to a “sentiment analysis” that can analyze customer conversations to determine how they feel.
Business News Daily explains that AI can help transform a CRM system into a “self-updating, auto-correcting system that stays on top of your relationship management for you.”
- Delivery and travel
Consumers often want their products and services almost instantaneously, and AI has helped transformed the landscape when it comes to product delivery and travel.
For example, Walmart launched Express Delivery in early 2020, which allows you to receive your order in two hours or less. The new delivery option wasn’t specifically tied to COVID-19, but “Walmart says the timing ‘pushed forward’ development as the retailer experienced a surge in delivery demand correlated with shelter-in-place orders,” according to Venture Beat.
With Walmart’s Express Delivery option, an artificial intelligence system, which features “resource optimization and vehicle routing,” first determines that the customers are even eligible for the two-hour delivery option. The system also optimizes routes and assigns delivery trips.
In another example, “UPS uses an AI-powered GPS tool called ORION (On-road Integrated Optimization and Navigation) to create the most efficient routes for its fleet. Customers, drivers, and vehicles submit data to the machine, which then uses algorithms to create the most optimal routes,” according to Forbes.
And now, timely items such as food and medicine can even be delivered by robots.
Businesses That Are Using AI & How
We’ve already mentioned a lot of business that are using artificial intelligence, but here are more examples:
- Under Armour’s app uses AI to collect health information on physical activity, sleep and diet to make personalized recommendations on workouts and health goals.
- In addition to its popular Alexa devices, Amazon uses AI to track customer spending behavior and to determine how many units of a specific product it anticipates customers to buy, according to Feedvisor.
- Sesame Street and IBM partnered to create an AI-powered vocabulary learning app.
- Hilton Hotels uses a robot concierge named “Connie” to greet guests.
- Apple uses AI in a host of their products, including the FaceID feature of the iPhone, Apple Watch, AirPods and HomePod smart speakers, according to Forbes.
- Facebook employs AI and deep learning to identify people in photos and also identify and remove inappropriate images.
Ethics in AI in the Business World
Even though AI is widely deployed and ever-growing within the business world, it does not come without risks and ethical concerns.
An article from the International Association of Privacy Professionals titled “Lawmakers (continue to) grapple with how to regulate facial recognition” explored the congressional investigation into the “the potential risks posed by both government and commercial use of facial-recognition technology.” The article also cited “false positives,” instances of a person being mistakenly identified as someone else.
According to a New York Times article, “facial recognition services … can be significantly less accurate when trying to identify women or someone with darker skin. Other systems may include security holes unlike any seen in the past. Researchers have shown that driverless cars can be fooled into seeing things that are not really there. All this means that building ethical artificial intelligence is an enormously complex task. It gets even harder when stakeholders realize that ethics are in the eye of the beholder.”
Facial recognition technology also raises the issue of privacy.
“As artificial intelligence evolves, it magnifies the ability to use personal information in ways that can intrude on privacy interests by raising analysis of personal information to new levels of power and speed,” according to the Brookings Institution.
And in some extreme scenarios, AI could also be considered dangerous. An article about AI and ethics in Harvard Magazine documents the tragic case of a woman who was wheeling her bike across the street when she was struck and killed by a self-driving car. In that particular case, a human was in the car, but “artificial intelligence was in full control.”
How can engineers design decision trees and algorithms to ensure safety of autonomous vehicles? How can ethics be integrated into the design of autonomous vehicles? AI holds answers to these important questions.
Other ethical concerns include whether AI will replace human workers, the rise of fake media and disinformation, and creating transparency in AI decision-making, according to Forbes.
A common principle of AI ethics is something called “explainability.” According to the Brookings Institution, “the risk of producing AI that reinforces societal biases has prompted calls for greater transparency about algorithmic or machine learning decision processes and for ways to understand and audit how an AI agent arrives at its decisions or classifications. As the use of AI systems proliferates, being able to explain how a given model or system works will be vital, especially for those used by governments or public sector agencies.”
So how does a business manage ethics when it comes to artificial intelligence? TechRepublic estimates that “the majority of consumers expect companies to be accountable for their AI systems, yet about half of companies do not have a dedicated member overseeing ethical AI implementation.”
That means with the right training, background and education, there may be potential job opportunities for artificial intelligence ethics/ethical managers as businesses recognize the needs for both having AI and employing someone to oversee it.
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