Will AI Fantasies Live Up to the Hype?

It's no surprise that investment in artificial intelligence (AI) technology is booming. Forrester recently reported that organizations leveraging AI, big data, and the Internet of Things (IoT) to mine useful insights will gain a massive competitive advantage against their peers. In fact, the report notes that these innovative companies "will steal $1.2 trillion per annum from their less informed peers by 2020."

AI is an industry ripe for massive acceleration, with more and more VCs trying to get their pieces of the pie. According to data from CB Insights, "over 550 startups using AI as a core part of their products raised $5B in funding in 2016." Further, the data shows that funding deals reached the highest they've been in five years, from 160 in 2012 to 658 in 2016.

With all this excitement around AI and its potential business impact, it's hard not to ask whether the capabilities of this technology will live up to the marketing hype. If you've seen the movie Iron Man, you're probably familiar with the character Jarvis -- a high-intelligence robot that's able to predict the needs of Iron Man and respond accordingly. While this is an exciting showcase of what AI technology could do one day, it's a far cry from how businesses are actually using AI today.

Will AI Replace Human Jobs?

It's been speculated that many industries will increasingly replace human jobs with AI. This will be true to some extent for the automated and routine tasks that humans do every day. According to McKinsey & Company, physical activities in highly structured and predictable environments and data collection and processing are the most susceptible to automation. For example, Facebook Messenger, which has more than 900 million monthly users, now has 30,000 chat bots from various companies that you can use to pay for meals and shop online.

While AI does have the ability to automate mundane tasks and back-end processes, it falls short when compared to the sophistication of the human workforce, especially in customer service. While AI can be helpful in dealing with the growing number of customers coming to companies across a multitude of channels, it can't replace the human element that so many customers still crave. According to an Accenture survey, customers want more human interaction when dealing with companies. In Accenture's study, 83% of respondents who had switched from being a customer of one company to another said that having the option to speak with a live person would have impacted their decision to remain with the original company.

Even when they place greater emphasis on automation and self-service, organizations need to focus on integrating AI with traditional, conversational customer experience. There is no replacement for empathy, and human interaction will always be the key element to achieve a positive customer experience.

Is AI the Answer to Everything?

While AI is being put to use in meaningful ways, it's definitely not the solution to every problem. In the customer service industry, specifically, the technology holds a lot of promise for improving overall customer satisfaction. With AI supporting daily interactions, agents can be more productive and boost customer satisfaction across the board. Examples of this today include the use of technologies like chat bots and speech recognition.

In the future, we'll see more companies implement "smarter" AI technology that can be more intuitive and conversational. For example, when asked today a simple chat bot on your bank's website would be able to provide you an update on your balance without a problem. In the future, we'll be able to see these bots retain context from previous conversations or make inferences based on the question asked or information provided altogether.

The future of AI is both exciting and daunting at the same time. The need to balance between human interactions and AI is becoming more and more apparent with the daily introduction of new technologies and innovations. While we don't expect AI to create an entirely robotic world barring humans, we do foresee it having a positive impact on business productivity and efficiency in the future.