Artificial intelligence (AI) may conjure up far-fetched ideas of robot assistants, or perhaps an all-seeing presence like HAL 9000, the sentient machine in the movie 2001. But the likelier truth is that AI will come in the form of software running in your data center.
And it will be coming very soon: Research firm Gartner predicts that "smart machines" will have a widespread impact on business within the next four years.
In general terms it's likely that AI will be able to help IT departments do their job - and help businesses be more productive – by ensuring that "processes get applied, stuff is accurate, errors are eliminated, and compliance is met," according to Dr Stuart Anderson, a research fellow at the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford.
It will also be quite unremarkable, according to some. "We see AI as another piece of software, like an ERP system," says Marc Carrel-Billiard, managing director of Global Technology Research & Development at Accenture Technology. "It will be another tool in the CIO’s toolbox, and it will need to be integrated in to the IT landscape and connected to legacy environments," he says.
But increasingly AI will be bundled as a feature into existing systems and products, he adds. "ERP vendors are already starting to put AI into what they do, and we will see more solutions with AI baked in," Carrel-Billiard says.
In fact, professional services firm Deloitte Global predicts that by the end of this year, more than 80 percent of the largest enterprise software companies will have integrated AI functionality into their products, and by 2020 it expects 95 percent of the top 100 enterprise software companies to have done so.
Demystifying the AI hype
To understand why, it's important to be clear about what AI can and cannot do. Scientists have so far made little progress in developing machines that can reason, but over the last 20 years huge advances have been made in the AI fields of pattern recognition and machine learning.
These allow computers to spot patterns in data, as well as images, text and spoken words, says Nova Spivack, a venture capitalist and CEO of big data company Bottlenose. "That means that systems will be able to sense and interpret the world – detecting weak signals early in large amounts of data," he says.
For example, Deloitte cites a company that has enhanced it systems logging tool with machine learning capabilities which groups related server events together to make it easier for an IT manager to identify developing problems or unusual computing trends that should be addressed on a real-time basis.
But the use of AI will go well beyond IT departments to others such as HR that support the main business, Deloitte says. For example, AI will help HR departments forecast which applicants for call center jobs are likely to stay in the post the longest, or which applicants to other posts may have the best cultural fit and perform the best.
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