Everyone is freaking out about artificial intelligence stealing jobs and leading to war --  and totally missing the point

  • 43% of respondents to a Sage survey in the United States and 46% of respondents in the United Kingdom admitted that they have ‘no idea what AI is all about.’
  • Adopting technologies like artificial intelligence can make your business more productive by cutting down the time you spend doing basic administrative tasks.
  • Using technology like a chatbot — especially as the first line of customer interaction before speaking to a person over the phone — can cut down customer wait times significantly.

People are saying a lot of things about artificial intelligence. Some people are saying that it will change the world for the worse. Some people are saying that it will steal your job.

Some are going all out and saying that it will lead to the next World War. I believe that stoking fear and exaggerating the realities of AI today, and its future potential, is the true problem here.

If you read about technology, you’ve probably seen some of these headlines brought on by expert, futurist and media predictions about an impending AI apocalypse. These exclamations seem to get more and more dramatic by the day, until suddenly, you’d think the world is already over thanks to AI technology that doesn’t exist yet. So, let’s slow down for a second.

Kriti SharmaSageKriti Sharma, Vice President of AI at Sage Group

How many of us can honestly say that we know what artificial intelligence
is exactly?

Only about half, according to new research
my firm, Sage, conducted to grasp actual public perceptions of AI. In fact, 43% in the United States and 46% of respondents in the United Kingdom admitted that they have ‘no idea what AI is all about.’ Like, at all. They are not alone — and that means the tech community (myself included) needs to take responsibility for dispelling rumours and breaking down facts. We need to cut through the noisy rhetoric to present the true potential of AI to real people and businesses in an understandable way. We need to go back to the basics.

First, we have to educate people on what AI means

Artificial intelligence is the creation of ‘intelligent’ machines — intelligent because they are taught to work, react and understand language like humans do. If you’ve ever used predictive search on Google, asked Siri about the weather, or requested that Alexa play your “getting ready” playlist, then congratulations — you’ve used AI.

Despite not fully understanding AI, 81% of people we surveyed felt optimistic about the potential of this technology to make lives better in the near future. And for good reason. AI presents a very real opportunity for businesses and people, alike. The technology powers enterprise and consumer platforms, apps and interfaces that make life easier, businesses more efficient and everything more informed thanks to troves of data.

AI won’t harm businesses. It will make them more productive

Adopting technologies like artificial intelligence can make your business more productive by cutting down the time you spend doing basic administrative tasks. In fact, another survey conducted by Sage this year found that the average small business spends 120 days — almost one-third of a year — on admin annually. Imagine how much faster businesses could grow if they could spend those 120 days on work that provides real value to customers and industries — like improving your strategy, creating better products or spending more time with customers.

For businesses and startups, the use of AI and bots translates directly into less time spent on routine administrative tasks internally, and happier customers externally. Adopting AI can be cost-effective, complementary to customer engagement and useful in closing talent gaps. More good news: you don’t need to become an AI expert to reap these rewards. In fact, there are some awesome AI-based tools on the market like personal assistants and legal robots. And if businesses want to take the reigns of actually developing AI-powered technologies, there are tools on the market that can make building a basic chatbot easy.

Now let me address the elephant in the room. People may not be boarding up their windows or stocking their pantries in preparation for a robot takeover, but in the real world, many do have concerns that the advancement of AI will lead to job loss. In our research, this was flagged as the number one concern. Yes, it’s true that implementing AI will strip away repetitive tasks. However, the fundamental goal of workplace AI is not to replace, but to support and create. Luckily, the development of AI also takes time, which means the human workforce has time to adapt, train or retrain and grow alongside this mission-critical technology.

Good news: AI benefits consumers, too

Consumers stand to benefit as well if they start interacting with businesses’ AI tools. Analyst firm Gartner predicted that 85% of all customer interactions will take place without a human agent by 2020. Using technology like a chatbot — especially as the first line of customer interaction before speaking to a person over the phone — can cut down customer wait times significantly. Using chatbot systems can inspire customers to continue opting for chat over voice calls and eliminate the ‘on hold’ process entirely. Something most people can get behind.

So, let’s leave the unfounded speculation about humanity’s impending doom at the hands of Hal 9000 and his robot friends to the tabloids. And, in the meantime, let’s take advantage of the real, practical advantages this technology has for people and businesses today. As I see it, the most severe risk with AI is that we don’t see the technology for what it actually is: an opportunity.

Kriti Sharma is the Vice President of AI at Sage Group, a global integrated accounting, payroll and payment systems provider. She is also the creator of Pegg, the world’s first AI assistant that manages everything from money to people, with users in 135 countries.

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