AI or Artificial Intelligence, has become the latest technical catchword. However, we tend to forget that the first application of AI, was developed more than 75 years back in 1943, by a scientist, William McCulloch and a logician Walter Pitts. They conceptualised the artificial neuron, a mathematical function modeling biological neurons. Since then, we have travelled far in our understanding and development of artificial models which are able to comprehend, forecast or predict, and analyse decision contexts.
Given its prospects, one of the obvious areas where artificial intelligence has seen a marked interest is in business. AI acts as a force multiplier which enables managers to substantially improve their performance in many areas. Some of the common areas of application of AI are improving relationships with employees and customers, finding patterns in extremely large and complex data or in performing repetitive tasks.
Applications such as data analytics, natural language processing and automation have gained huge popularity. The use of Data analytics has allowed managers to gain unprecedented insights into business issues, allowing for far more informed decisions. Automation allows us to avoid repetitive, risky or low productivity activities. Chatbots, Intelligent search engines, access for visually challenged, are the areas served by Natural Language processing. Across industries, these fields of AI are streamlining operations and improving efficiencies, transferring and cross-referencing data, updating files and so on.
What we need to remember, however, is that AI is an umbrella term covering several technologies. It boasts of several areas such as natural language processing, deep learning, machine learning, knowledge reasoning, computer vision, robotics, among others.
AI applications are sometimes categorised into ‘weak’ and ‘strong’. Weak artificial intelligence generally focuses only on one task. A very large number of AI application currently available fall into this category. These applications need training or direction to deliver the insights that are sought from it.
AI specialists around the world are working round the clock to create ‘strong’ artificial intelligence applications. Such applications can take their own decisions, handle multiple problems applying their intelligence, and exhibit human-like behaviour and functioning. It may take some more time for deployment of such ‘real’ applications of AI, but they are on their way and should be able to unleash their true potential in the not so distant future.
Despite this, even the currently available artificial intelligence solutions can deliver extraordinary benefits and capabilities across applications and across industries. Several industries have already incorporated some form of artificial intelligence into their day-to-day operations. Some of the industries which are poised to reap the maximum benefit from artificial intelligence are as follows:
Banking and Finance – Promising areas of application in this industry are fraud detection, anti-money laundering activities, KYC (know your customer) regulatory checks, customer identification and authentication, mimicking live employees through chatbots and voice assistants, and gaining personalised insights and recommendations.
Retail – This is a highly competitive industry and extremely vulnerable to shifts in customer behaviour. The applications attracting maximum attention are online customer support using ‘Chat’ and other related functionality, improving customer experience through increased personalisation, product recommendations based on customer search history, and smart segmentation which can be delivered effectively utilising customer navigation data, sometimes across platforms (e.g. combining social media interactions with website and brick-and-mortar store search data to provide unique insights into consumer behaviour). It can now also take the help of AI to get better new customer predictions, evaluations of alternative action based scenarios, and targeted marketing communications and campaigns.
Security – The area of cyber-security is increasingly vulnerable to intensification of attacks which are growing not only in frequency but in the variety of tools used and their sophistication. Human operators need substantial AI support to be able to provide security against such threats. Cyber security companies are teaching artificial intelligence systems to detect viruses and malware using complex algorithms and pattern recognition. They can also use predictive functions that are much faster than other applications. Using natural language processing, AI applications can scan through news items, articles and other media to identify potential threats. They can also be used to provide multi-factor authentication i.e. use several factors for authentication dynamically.
AI applications are also increasingly employed for physical security applications and are available in the following areas: access control, military defense, home surveillance and surveillance of wide-area facilities.
This is by no means an exclusive list and there are many other industries increasing adopting AI for a mind-boggling array of applications, building long term strategic advantage. Thus, for business organisations today, the question is more about what AI applications to adopt in which areas, and when to deploy them rather than whether to integrate AI into their business.
Many business schools are thus introducing courses in artificial intelligence and data analytics. Considering it’s future potential, students taking up such courses are expected to be in high demand.
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