04 Sep 2016 17:31 IST

The road to super-intelligence

Ever wondered what it would be like if someone took care of the unexciting chores?

The most valuable asset you have is time. However, most of us lose precious time in mundane tasks. For some, this involves repetitive conversations with customers, and for others, it means wading through mountains of data and analysing it to make better business decisions.

Ever wondered what it would be like if someone took care of the unexciting chores? Enter the bot world.

A bot can automate tasks humans usually do on their own. Though it may sound far-fetched to some, the concept of automation has existed for over 50 years and is all around us already — from automated customer care, chatbots and virtual assistants to self-driven cars and investment advisors. Such machine intelligence helps take away low-skill front-end jobs, leaving more time for value-added work.

Fourth industrial revolution

Why are people talking about this phenomenon now, more than ever? There’s one key reason — artificial intelligence (AI). AI software is advancing excellently, and enables computers to converse with humans in ways that could only be imagined. AI is evolving at an exponential rate into different domains across the world. Due to this enormous shift, the industry now claims that we’re at the brink of the world’s fourth industrial revolution, or ‘industry 4.0’.

An essential characteristic of any industrial revolution is the way machines change people’s lives and their methods of manufacturing. The first revolution came with steam and water power, the second with electricity and the third with computerisation. In each era, the impact of machines was so huge that it is impossible to imagine what the world would be like if the revolution’s effects were swept away.

The next inevitable change is smart — a combination of Internet of Things, web connectivity and automation. It’s no wonder that industry biggies such as IBM, Accenture, Apple, Google and Facebook are investing in smart technologies. AI is well on its way and is changing most of our jobs.

What’s in it for CXOs?

AI is the answer to any modern CXO’s fundamental problem — information overload. It helps entire teams offload repetitive tasks and to focus, instead, on mission-critical topics and strategic decisions. AI can also help IT leaders make better and faster decisions. There are plenty of benefits to consider here. Enterprises across India, China and South America have already implemented AI in the ITeS function across domains, such as telecom, BFSI, retail, IT and manufacturing.

At the bottom-line, you will find simple, repetitive interactions — such as support centres for banks, telco operators, and so on. The main requirement for such work is to follow a defined Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) that can be easily automated. Next, AI can be applied in instances like HR employee onboarding, or even in loan refinancing, where interactions require some form of AI/ business logic which interprets user inputs and generates a response.

However, AI brings its highest value when a deep dive is required to analyse large volumes of pre-existing data. It not only handles data but does sentiment analysis which, can be of great functional use in such instances as annual HR performance reviews, use of money management tools and stock trading advice.

With automation, an organisation requires less manpower to complete a task once it is defined. For instance, consider a support engineer handling human interactions for a call centre. With minimal human intervention and an automation engine in place, one can be assured of faster response time, accuracy and cost-efficiency. Besides, the data recorded by these machines can also help predict patterns and open up more avenues for innovation. The added benefit is an automated scaling system that adapts to demand — that is, optimised resource use based on the load as all interactions are handled by the software.

Is AI right for you?

With automation, you can optimise situations where you can predict questions in human interactions and exchange information accordingly. AI can also make a considerable impact with process automation such as feeding data, sharing status updates and creating reports. Apparently, over 50 per cent of a salesperson’s time goes into filling out forms. With automation, such employees can focus on their core competence areas and higher levels of work. Besides, if you own or generate tonnes of data, features such as Natural Language Processing (NLP) and AI-based knowledge engines that understand voice, convert voice to text and do sentiment analysis can prove handy.

Automation also makes sense when AI engines achieve the kind of accuracy that mimics real human interaction as it is based on machine learning algorithms based on past data along with human guidance. For example, in the education domain, it can create a curriculum for a student based on previous test scores. The main key here lies in identifying the process you want to automate after analysing the value you will get out of it.

Extracting greater value

An end user is provided an experience close to human-human interaction. A talk with a BoT can be designed on the lines of a conversation with a teller at the bank. Meanwhile, for service-employees, automation implies spending less time on menial tasks and investing time in other areas that can add value. An organisation, on the other hand, can save in terms of OPEX at each stage of value chain, as the skill requirement increases.

Automation is also often seen as a threat by some people, who fear it may ‘steal’ human jobs. That’s the part most people don’t get about AI — it is a job enabler, not a job snatcher. When automobiles were introduced, they were considered a threat initially. However, carriage drivers reskilled themselves, while automobiles helped the economy develop and propel innovation.

(The author is Senior Vice-President, Communication Engineering, Incedo Inc.)