Byron Reese, CEO and publisher of emerging technology research leader Gigaom, has just come off a (by all accounts) successful Gigaom AI conference. The two-day event focused on what brands can do today by using Artificial Intelligence (AI), and featured speakers such as Tom Keiser of Zendesk, Howard Love of LoveToKnow, and Paul Chapman of Box. These speakers and many others highlighted the transformative power of AI, but in order to better understand how powerful AI will be to the enterprise of tomorrow, I talked to Reese himself.
The Austin-based technologist believes that, over time, it’s going to get much easier for the C-suite to incorporate AI across the enterprise. After all, it’s not something like SEO or email marketing; it’s something that has the potential to permeate those functions, not to mention every department in the company (more on that later).
AI doesn’t have a consensus definition, though at its heart, it’s simply a technology that adjusts itself according to its environment. Ultimately, having AI is having the power to make better decisions. Reese estimates that the average person at a company might currently make 500 somewhat substantive decisions a day, from whether to answer one email over another, to which deals they opt to pursue.
Yet as of now, we don’t make decisions based off of data; we tend to focus more as to what feels right in our gut. In the not too distant future, all of our decisions will be based, at least in part, off of data. That’s going to be transformative – as much so, Reese believes, as electricity, or the assembly line, or machine power. You won’t be able to imagine a time when your decisions weren’t enabled by enormous amounts of data. “People will look back on us and wonder, ‘How did they get anything done? Because they were just stumbling in the dark.’”
“In 5000 years, we haven’t gotten any smarter,” says Reese matter-of-factly. “We run the planet because we’re the smartest creatures on it,” not because we’re actually getting any smarter. What’s happened, he explains, is that every generation has merely added to the sum total of human knowledge built on what had come before, and that’s really the only reason we’re making progress. The sum of knowledge keeps growing, but we’re not technically getting smarter. “AI effectively makes us smarter, so it’s essentially the biggest invention since fire,” he says. This is the generation where we will go from growing knowledge to growing actual smarts.
Thanks to AI, all of the decisions we’ve made over the entire course of history and business will be open for examination, with the aid of enormous amounts of data. That’s how profound AI has the potential to be.
It’s also profound enough of a shift to disrupt not just one department, but pretty much all departments across the enterprise. Take the sales department, for example. “Will that be disrupted? Absolutely,” Reese says. AI-powered lead scoring will be revolutionary for sales. Then, marketing. Intelligence drives that department. What kinds of messages do people respond to, and where do we show them those messages, and in what way? Human resources can employ AI to sort through resumes and look for desirable characteristics. The legal department can look at contracts and ensure consistency across all of those. “It never stops,” says Reese. “You can’t find a part of the org chart where it won’t be entirely transformative.”
It’s so transformative because it’s a great way at getting at the truth, which has been a hot topic of late. By now, on some level, we’re all familiar with the concept of #AlternativeFacts. However, while AI has the potential to show us the truth, at the end of the day a human being has to be the one to accept those truths. Reese is optimistic that enough will follow the truths that AI brings to light, and the ones who ignore truths will fall behind.
“There are people who will open their minds to the data and won’t follow it blindly but will be able to change their mind off of it, and then they are people who won’t,” says Reese. Compounded over thousands of decisions a day year after year, “it’s unquestionable which side will come out ahead on that. If you open your mind to hearing what the data has to say, over the long-term you’re going to be successful and people who don’t, won’t.”
Not only will some be unwilling to face the truths that AI makes apparent, there are some companies that will be afraid of adopting AI for one of a number of reasons. After all, not everyone embraces change. Of the original Dow Jones Industrial Average companies, there’s only one left – General Electric. That’s a testament to the fact that even the mighty can fall when they don’t embrace creative cannibalization. Why doesn’t Blockbuster own streaming video? Why doesn’t Kodak own the digital camera market? It’s because something profoundly different came along and they didn’t adopt it fast enough. It’s relatively safe to say that AI will be even more transformative than the evolution away from DVD rentals.
“There are some technologies where you should take a wait and see attitude,” says Reese, “but the power to make better decisions is not one of them.” When transformative technologies come along, they happen fast. The US went from generating 5% of its power with steam to 80% in just over 20 years, so taking a wait-and-see approach towards mechanical power probably wouldn’t have worked out too well for you.
The good news? If you’re reading this sentence, you’re probably well ahead of some of your peers in understanding the transformative nature AI will have on the enterprise.
This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.
This post is part of our contributor series. The views expressed are the author's own and not necessarily shared by TNW.
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