There’s no shortage of trepidation in this country and others about robots taking over jobs from humans. Add artificial intelligence (AI) into the equation—and more than a few apocalyptic movies about such learning-enabled machines taking over the human race—and the fear factor is ratcheted up a bit.
Though ethical concerns are prevalent, executives across the globe say AI is nonetheless certain to develop further in their businesses. According to a study released this week by Infosys, 71 percent of the 1,600 senior business decision-makers surveyed say that the rise of AI in the workplace is inevitable, pointing to positive changes for business prospects, employees and society.
The study—commissioned by Infosys and conducted by independent market researcher Vanson Bourne—set out to investigate the approach and attitudes that senior decision-makers in large organizations (at least 1,000 employees and $500 million in annual revenue) have toward AI technology and how they see the future application and development of AI in their industries.
Although AI definitions can vary, it is generally considered as an activity traditionally performed through human intelligence that can now be done by a computer. For the purposes of this research, Infosys defined AI as an area of computer science that emphasizes the creation of intelligent machines that work and react like humans.
In our personal lives, we have grown more accustomed to natural language understanding technologies like Siri or Alexa, who will answer our spoken questions or add milk to our grocery lists when we tell them to (or order a $160 dollhouse from Amazon when a 6-year-old girl makes her wishes known, as was the case recently in Texas). But there’s a lot more to it than that, not least of which for manufacturing is a better way to harness the power of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
Understandably, IT departments are the leading AI adopters by far—at 69 percent, they’re 35 percentage points ahead of the next department on the list. But operations leads the rest of the pack with a 34 percent adoption rate.
That’s reflected in the kinds of AI applications being used today. For example, nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of survey respondents are looking to AI to automate the collection, processing and storage of Big Data. About half are looking at predictive or prescriptive analytics (54 percent) or machine learning (51 percent). Other AI deployments or plans include expert systems (software that leverages databases and repositories to assist decision-making, at 44 percent) and deep learning neural networks (31 percent).
Overall, the perception of AI’s success is positive: Besides the 71 percent of respondents that believe AI adoption is inevitable, 76 percent of senior decision-makers agree that AI is fundamental to the success of their organization’s strategy. Many of them also expect AI to have a significant effect on their bottom line: By 2020, they expect AI to be contributing a 39 percent average increase in revenue and a 37 percent average cut in operating costs.
Getting back to that ethics question…
As Infosys notes, very few advances in technology have been so entwined with ethics issues as AI is. Despite the benefits cited in their organizations even after just an average of two years of AI adoption—automating processes, cost savings, increasing productivity and increasing revenue topping the list—more than half (53 percent) of the survey respondents see ethical concerns as a barrier to AI reaching its full potential.
In its efforts to learn more about the ethics behind AI, Infosys found that a huge majority of the executives believe that employees (90 percent) and customers (88 percent) face concerns about the adoption of AI. And yet only about a third of them (36 percent) think their company has fully considered the ethical issues related to AI. Given that the majority of the decision-makers see AI as inevitable, that 36 percent might be reason for concern.
Infosys urges companies not only to develop a strategic plan for their use of AI technologies, but to include in that consideration of the ethical issues and what will be expected of future workforce generations. “We must now think beyond how we’ve been approaching our education, to recast it as a holistic, continuous and lifelong process of learning—one in which problem-finding is as important as problem-solving, and digital literacy is taken as seriously as language literacy,” notes Vishal Sikka, CEO of Infosys, in the report.
To that end, a large majority of the businesses surveyed plan to invest in skills development for their workforces. In 80 percent of the cases where companies are replacing roles with AI, they are hanging onto those workers by redeploying or retraining them, the study found. This varies by industry, led by fast-moving consumer goods (94 percent); aerospace and automotive (87 percent); energy, oil and gas (80 percent); and pharmaceutical and life sciences (78 percent). Geographically, China expects to make the greatest investment in its workforce (95 percent).
To get a full copy of the report and AI maturity index, visit www.infosys.com/AImaturity.