by Geoff Halstead, Fraction Chief Product Officer and Digital Business Strategist
February 2023 – For the last year, experts across the entire breadth of the technology industry – business and technical leaders, entrepreneurs, observers and venture capitalists alike – have been proclaiming that we have crossed over a critical threshold or ‘tipping point’ in the evolution of Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a technology. In recent months, this awareness has spread into popular consciousness through astute journalists and bloggers in the mass media speaking to the profound breadth and breathtaking speed of the revolution that is upon us. Business leaders – especially at technology companies – have also taken notice. Google, for example, has created a ‘Code Red’ team to deal with threat that AI chatbots posed to its $150B+ annual Search Business.
While it may feel like this has come out of the blue, the technical development of AI is something that has occurred over decades. This is one of those classic cases of ‘punctuated evolution,’ where incremental advances accumulate until there is a qualitative shift so enormous that it will sweep across and change the entire environment and ecosystems that preceded it. The world has changed. We are just waiting for the shock waves to arrive.
The good news is that humans – and the businesses they run – have the capacity to evolve and respond: adaptability is our most pronounced trait as a species. And evolve we must – or be overwhelmed by the AI revolution. It would be a mistake to assume that because you are not a ‘technology company’ or don’t have lines of products or services that seem to align to what you are reading about AI today, that it will not impact yours. Which businesses will be impacted the most rapidly and profoundly will vary, but the most challenging feature of the era we have just entered is that it is extremely difficult to predict how this will play out. Thus, every business should have a ‘Code Red’ team looking at how AI will impact you and how to respond.
It took two decades for the Internet to truly unfold into a force that transformed the way we live and work. When the iPhone and its brethren came along – an ubiquitous, always-connected supercomputer in your pocket – its impact unfolded in less than a decade because the foundation of the Internet, cloud computing, software and Big Data was already in place. Now, AI will leverage both platforms to transform our business, economy and lives forward with stunning speed – years, not decades. Whether our society is ready and able to cope with this is a question that will see much debate, but we will not be able to stop its progression. Whether your business is ready and able to not just cope with but take advantage of AI to benefit your customers, employees and stakeholders is a question that you can answer.
Perhaps you are skeptical, and healthy skepticism is an important trait for any business decision maker. But this skepticism should be balanced, of course, against the need to recognize and react to seismic changes in your market and competitive landscape while there is still time to do so. I ask you to consider these three drivers of the speed and breadth of the impact of AI, which are grounded in the nature of the world, our economy, and technology revolutions, and draw your own conclusions.
1) Accessibility: AI will remove the user experience (UX) barriers for ‘ordinary humans’ to directly leverage technology
Until now, despite constant effort and gradual improvement, software and advanced technology products have always remained difficult for average users. There has been a gulf between the “tech savvy” and everyone else, and then a chasm from there to the truly technically proficient people that design, code and run software development. Even at its current MVP (Minimum Viable Product) level of development, Generative AI engines like ChatGPT remove this: the UI is now ordinary conversation and iterative requests, questions and responses.
In healthcare, the obvious deduction is that any work involving customer and technical support – or any complex process – will be completely transformed in efficiency, effectiveness and costs by reducing human involvement. Perhaps less obvious is that it will extend to any complex, knowledge intensive process. For example, AI may soon be able to assist or entirely replace the general practice physician in the initial steps of diagnosing and triaging illness, ailments and false alarms. But these are just examples that scratch the surface, and history shows us that often the less obvious innovations are some of the biggest.
2) Accelerated Evolution: AI itself will be used to accelerate its own development and evolution
AI can also be used to improve or create new AI tools. In this case, AI becomes a force multiplier, allowing engineers, developers, and designers to prototype and train new products and models for virtually any application. This will increase the accessibility of AI over time, lowering the barrier of entry for those who want to leverage the tech in existing or new markets.
“Force multiplier” is probably too mild a description, however. The closer analogies are:
- Moore’s Law – which predicted how computing power would increase exponentially for decades; and
- Metcalfe’s Law – which predicted how the network effects of the Internet would then exponentially increase the value and impact of that computing power.
AI is pretty well a direct result of the interaction of both of these. More importantly, AI has its own emergent properties and drivers that will once again apply an exponential function to its value and impact.
- Computing power. While Moore’s Law is reaching its end for individual chips, AI is enabled by supercomputers with neural networks that feature massive parallel processing with hundreds of thousands of CPUs (e.g. versus one or several in a PC or laptop). This effectively removes any upward limit to computing power and throughput other than cost vs. ROI.
- Network Effects. Metcalfe’s Law gets a boost here: the value of any AI system will exponentially increase with the number of users connected to it because it learns from those users and the data generated in their use of it.
- Data Effects. The more data an AI system gathers, processes and trains upon, the more intelligent and useful it becomes. AI itself will soon drive this process, and that force multiplier is hard to quantify.
3) Disruption Capitalism: Someone is already working to disrupt your business
Over the last four decades, “Disruption Capitalism” has evolved and expanded far beyond the once distant shores of Silicon Valley. It is now embedded into the fabric of the modern economy, with vast financial resources at its disposal. Like it or not, entrepreneurs and venture and private equity investors are already pouring in to figure out and transform every business process and problem that AI can solve – which is limited only by the imagination of the innovator and the resources to support it.
While this will undoubtedly result in huge economic gains in efficiency, it will also drive disruption – the exact process by which new technology-driven upstarts displace long established incumbents. On the upside, established companies that are proactive and smart about leveraging AI to improve their products, services and processes will not just survive, but thrive.
So What Should You Do About AI?
As I said at the start, exactly how rapidly and profoundly your products, services and business will be impacted is extremely difficult to predict. More importantly, only you and your team can ultimately take ownership of understanding this and make the best decisions for your business. But there are three steps you can take right now.
- Form a ‘Code Red’ Team to Learn and Evaluate. Perhaps as you dig into it, you will find that it’s more of a “Code Yellow” or even a “Code Green” for all the opportunities AI creates. Perhaps not. But knowing this is critical.
- Start Using AI. You are already actually using some more limited forms of AI in many applications you rely on today. But now you need to go to the platforms themselves. It doesn’t matter which, but it does matter that you actually see, touch and feel what they can do. This will enable you to start to imagine where it can go.
- Be Both Strategic and Specific. You need to think about AI and your business at a higher strategic level, while also digging into real world opportunities with use cases, user stories and evaluation of workflows and processes. Then you can understand the big picture as well as the concrete, useful places to start.
Since you and your team are, of course, busy running your business as it is today, you may also want to get a ‘guide’ or ‘coach’ that can stimulate how you think about AI, examine your business processes, gather your team’s collective learnings and understandings, and formalize this into strategic decisions and plans. But whatever you do, take action. AI will impact your business either for good or for bad, and soon, so you need to start on this path now of understanding how and what to do about it.
About the Author
Geoff Halstead is a Fraction Chief Product Officer and Digital Business Strategist whose experience and expertise spans mHealth / eHealth, AI, IOT, Smart Buildings and RTLS (Real Time Location Services).
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