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Why AI will make you rethink your business strategy

AI
  • Feb 15 2018

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For many of us, no matter how informed we are about the reality of artificial intelligence, hearing the term AI (artificial intelligence) still conjures up dramatic imagery of terminators, replicants and self-aware spaceships gone rogue, however fleeting.

But while the present-day applications of artificial intelligence may fall short of Hollywood’s cinematic grandeur, prominent figures like Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have nevertheless warned against the unchecked development of AI as a potential threat to our very existence. Others have also voiced concern over its contribution to automation and increased unemployment.

AI technology is already having an immense impact on many aspects of human life. In the world of business, for instance, AI technology presents numerous opportunities and challenges to start-ups and corporations alike.

​Let’s take a closer look at the potential impact of AI on business strategy, as well as how one might capitalise on future AI technologies for business success.

The state of Artificial Intelligence todayAccording to Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee in their recent article in the Harvard Business ReviewThe B​usiness of Artificial Intelligence, the biggest recent advances in AI technology have been in two broad areas: perception and cognition. Perception includes features like real-time speech and image recognition, while cognition includes problem solving and real-time analysis. The latter of these is at play in famous showcases like Google’s DeepMind winning a game of Go against Ke Jie—the world’s best (human) player.

Machine learning (ML) is definitely the most interesting area of AI today – especially in terms of potential to disrupt the world of business. Simply put, ML involves computer algorithms that automatically scan through data to identify and “learn” rules – and thus figure out a problem – without being programmed to do so. One of the most fascinating recent demonstrations of the technology’s potential saw a computer program being able to correctly identify skin cancer in a mole that had been ruled benign by a professional dermatologist. It did this by processing 130,000 images of skin diseases and then drawing its own conclusions as to what constitutes a positive diagnosis.

The impact of AI and ML technology on businessThis technology clearly holds immense potential in the world of business, as any task that is deemed sufficiently repetitive can theoretically be replaced by a computer armed with a machine learning algorithm. It’s important to remember that this doesn’t only include traditionally low-paying jobs like factory work, as evidenced in the dermatologist example described above. Practically all areas of business stand to be, at the very least, influenced by the introduction of ML processes.

As such, any business strategy that intends to hold its own in the future economy needs to come to terms with this potential influence and give ML and AI serious consideration. Thankfully, the prospect of incorporating elements of this technology into prospective business processes and planning needn’t be intimidating, as it’s increasingly accessible.

This is because relevant skills are spreading quickly among available talent, as ambitious students can access innumerable online resources to develop business-ready ML capabilities. Furthermore, as more AI software and ML platforms are developed, the number of cost-effective solutions you can feasibly – and productively – implement in your business is only set to increase.

We can thus say with confidence that AI and ML technology’s most immediate impact on business strategy is not a matter of automating everyone out of a job; rather, it’s a tool that forward-looking businesses can leverage for long-term relevance and success. McAfee and Brynjolfsson articulate this point well in their closing paragraph:

Although it is hard to predict exactly which companies will dominate in the new environment, a general principle is clear: The most nimble and adaptable companies and executives will thrive. Organizations that can rapidly sense and respond to opportunities will seize the advantage in the AI-enabled landscape. So the successful strategy is to be willing to experiment and learn quickly. If managers aren’t ramping up experiments in the area of machine learning, they aren’t doing their job. “Over the next decade, AI won’t replace managers, but managers who use AI will replace those who don’t.

How you can capitalise on technology for business successWith all this in mind, aspiring business leaders simply can’t afford to ignore developments in AI and machine learning. If you’re interested in developing the necessary skills and experience to leverage this technology in the context of your business strategies, consider enrolling in an education programme that offers you just that. The Futures Studies MPhil and Postgraduate Diploma at the University of Stellenbosch Business School are great examples. They’re designed from the ground up to equip the business leaders of tomorrow with the tools they need to leverage future technology for business success.

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