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Artificial intelligence is changing the face of business

Artificial intelligence is changing the face of business

Heidi Trost
Heidi Trost

What do “2001: Space Odyssey,” “The Matrix,” “The Terminator,” and “WALL-E” all have in common? They are all science fiction movies that examined the advantages and potential dangers of artificial intelligence, commonly known as AI. While the concept of AI is not new, its applications have expanded because of huge increases in data and computing power.

Artificial intelligence provides machines with human capabilities and behaviors. Machine learning, a subset of artificial intelligence, feeds machines large amounts of data from which to “learn” and improve accuracy. For example, using machine learning, AI-powered machines can learn to tell the difference between a poisonous snake and a harmless one or to spot tissue abnormalities in an MRI.

Tech giants such as Google, Apple and Microsoft are investing heavily in AI research and development. For instance, Amazon uses AI to power its recommendation engine, Alexa, and its delivery drones. And Google’s AI-powered AlphaGo won against champion opponents in the strategy-laden game of Go, proving its potential superiority in strategic decision-making.

While some worry that machines equipped with artificial intelligence will do more harm than good, it’s clear AI is a game-changer that is here to stay. Quite simply, if it hasn’t affected your business already, it undoubtedly will very soon.

Improving people’s lives

While AI does force us to question exactly what we mean by “human,” I think a more relevant issue is how it can help us be better humans. One of those areas is improving accessibility. For example, Aira, a self-described “visual information service,” uses AI to help blind or low vision individuals interpret and interact with the world.

Microsoft, through its AI for Accessibility initiative, partnered with Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Institute of the Deaf to help deliver more accurate real-time captioning during lectures. The captions are generated through Microsoft Translator, an AI-powered technology that learns the pronunciation of difficult scientific terms using data from previous lectures. Interestingly, the professors found the captions improved lecture comprehension for all students in the class.

Improving decision-making

Data cannot help us if we can’t do anything with it due to its sheer volume. Through machine learning, AI-powered machines can interpret more data than a human ever could. The more data available, the more accurate they can become. The implications are staggering and span across every industry.

AI has the potential to help doctors make more informed and efficient medical diagnoses, as well as help business executives make decisions to improve manufacturing efficiencies, quality control, and even sustainability.

As someone who focuses on customers’ digital experiences, I fully expect AI to play a role in evaluating, improving, and even creating more usable and accessible experiences. By raising the baseline, AI would give my team the time to focus on the complex challenges of integrating the physical and digital worlds to improve the human experience.

Asking important questions

Instead of shying away from a technology that shows no sign of stopping, this is an opportune time to address some of the philosophical, ethical and legal questions that have been facing the digital age for a long time, such as data privacy and control. It’s also critical to take into account that AI is only as good as the data and algorithms that power it, so its output can be biased or even exploited. Addressing these issues now will help set a precedent for new technologies that will inevitably follow.

For businesses, it’s important to question how AI affects the entire customer digital experience. More than ever, there is awareness and advocacy around using technology to help people and improve the lives of generations to come.

Customers are demanding that businesses address difficult questions: How do we use technology to reduce bias instead of proliferate it? What processes and boundaries should be put in place when it comes to making decisions? What role will AI play in customer service and support? How do we build privacy and security into digital products? How do we use AI to improve usability, accessibility, and safety? These are some of the questions we are working through with our clients at Voice+Code.

Heidi Trost is a usability expert, user experience researcher, speaker and founder at Voice+Code.