Artificial intelligence in business: how AI is improving the way we work

By Rich Blyth, Friday July 10, 2020
6 Minutes

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the development of computer systems that can perform tasks previously requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages. Or, as in the case of sci-fi classics such as ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, ‘The Terminator’ and ‘I, Robot’, AI is the harbinger of humankind’s relegation to meat-based marionettes, dangling from the strings of our distinctly meat-free overlords.

However, this robopocalyptic image of machines taking over the world appears to be waning, replaced by an almost prosaically helpful AI that’s quickly becoming a part of our everyday lives. 

Nowhere is this more apparent than in our homes. One hundred million of us around the world have Amazon’s Alexa telling us what’s on TV or what the weather will be like at 7:28 tomorrow morning. And that’s not forgetting the smartphone and software assistants that we take with us wherever we go, such as Microsoft’s Cortana and Apple’s Siri.

Outside the home, driverless cars, once considered a far-off dream, will soon be publicly available. And, of course, the world of business will not go unchanged. In fact, it’s already embracing AI technologies to remove the mundane so us humans can focus on the marvellous.

Machine learning

Machine learning is probably the most common type of artificial intelligence in business today. It’s primarily used to quickly process large amounts of data. These AI algorithms learn over time how to improve on this process each time they run it. Pinterest, for example. apply machine learning algorithms to their spam moderation, content discovery and advertising models.

Machine learning is somewhat limited because over time the level of improvement it gains from repeating the same tasks plateaus. Whereas deep learning, a more specific variant of machine learning, uses algorithms that continue to improve by drawing on neural networks to engage in non-linear reasoning. For example, deep learning algorithms are used by self-driving cars to contextualise the information picked up by their sensors. This information includes the proximity to other cars and the speed of travel, which could then be used to judge when to slow down the vehicle.

Rise of the virtual personal assistants (VPAs)

At home and on our phones, we’ve been familiar with Siri, Google Assistant and Alexa for some time. A simple command into our smartphones or devices will trigger the AI to complete simple tasks, like playing music or asking for directions. 

And now the business world is catching up. These VPAs are increasingly used to perform relatively mundane tasks such as scheduling meetings, setting important reminders, taking notes and sending emails. At a more advanced level, some businesses are even utilising them to automate workflows or streamline basic customer interactions.

A more powerful CRM

Customer relationship management platforms such as HubSpot are using AI in a number of ways. A CRM is only as powerful as the customer data it contains and HubSpot employs sophisticated algorithms to ensure the data is ‘clean’, being free from mistakes, duplication, in the correct format for importing, and so on (saving someone an unenviable task). 

More complete customer data and better insights driven by AI-backed content optimisation allow businesses to make more intelligent and timely decisions, such as which specific customers to focus on and what are the best offers which will appeal directly to them. 

Driving sales through personalised website experiences

As part of a digital transformation strategy, website owners are using AI to create more engaging and personalised experiences for their visitors, particularly in ecommerce. 

Since the earliest versions of Amazon’s website, they have been implementing AI-based technologies to increase sales. By identifying patterns and clusters in customer purchase behaviours and analysing millions of transactions every day, their AI targets a more personal experience for individual customers in the form of recommendations via the website or email. 

Much in the same way YouTube and Netflix algorithms suggest content based on your viewing history, Amazon’s AI learns what you are likely to buy from the website and promotes this transaction.

Chatbots: more than just a 24/7 salesperson

As a way to provide 24/7 access to a global audience, chatbots are becoming increasingly popular across business websites and mobile apps.

Sometimes known as conversational marketing agents, chatbots mimic written or spoken human interaction with a visitor. Their sophistication varies – with the most advanced offering nuanced, Siri-style experiences and the most basic being programmed just to respond to specific questions from the user. 

Chatbots are widely used in the customer service space and increasingly in other aspects of business. Chatbots have even been developed to help insomniacs and act as companions for dementia patients.

Humans and machines: a perfect match

Far from being the much-prophesied end-game for humanity, AI will – and already is – making our working lives easier and more efficient. Which means we can spend less time performing menial, frustrating tasks and more time doing the things that make us tick – building, creating, talking. So that, far from taking away our humanity, AI is allowing us to be more human.If you want to find out how we can improve your human/machine work balance, get in touch.

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