MIT Sloan Executive Education innovation@work Blog

A participant's perspective on AI's role in business

Abdul Dremali

Guest post contributed by Abdul Dremali, Head of Innovation at the AndPlus Innovation Lab, where he is currently leading research and development in artificial intelligence, machine learning and augmented reality. This post is his last in a series of “MIT Musings” published to the AndPlus site. To begin with Volume 1, click here.

I recently participated in the self-paced, online program, Artificial Intelligence: Implications for Business Strategy. As I wrap up my coursework at MIT Sloan Executive Education (for now), I’ve taken some time to reflect on my learnings including the many vigorous discussions with my classmates and instructors regarding the role of emerging technologies in business—and the role of business in technology.

MIT and GetSmarter created an exceptional interactive environment for this online program that inspired discussion, reflection and even debate among classmates and instructors alike. From online modules based around custom curated case studies to well-scripted videos, we had an abundance of resources to help us grow in our leadership positions at our businesses. I confidently feel that we all walked away with a better understanding of artificial intelligence from a business standpoint and its role in our respective industry.

The main takeaway? You may think you’ve seen it all, but you ain’t seen nothing yet, and that should make you excited.

Looking Back
Many of the class discussions revolved around what I call the four pillars of our technological future:

1) Artificial intelligence (AI) in general, and machine learning in particular
2) Internet of Things (IoT)
3) Big Data
4) Robotics

Some or all of these areas of technological development will affect almost every aspect of our personal and business lives in the near future, and we’re already seeing the effects in some areas. As I mentioned in my previous “MIT Musings” articles:

  • AI will become an important driver of business strategy. From driving down costs (and therefore prices) and increasing customer focus to incorporating AI in products and services, AI technologies will continue to gain importance in driving future business growth and competitive position. This revolution has already started and will continue to become a main point of competition between the tech giants (Apple, Google, IBM, Microsoft, etc..).
  • Natural language processing will fundamentally change human-computer interaction. The ability to get a device to do what you want by spoken commands promises to leave the point-and-click graphical user interface in the dust. Likewise, the ability for computers to comb through mountains of unstructured data to identify trends and patterns, and to weed out useless information, will be a boon for many industries, from medicine to internet search. Siri was one of the first companies to pioneer NLP before Apple bought them in 2010. Since then we’ve seen IBM Watson, Alexa and Cortana as competitors in the space. This is the future of interface and we’re likely to see great strides in this technology sooner than later.
  • Robots are coming—but “general purpose” robots are still a long way off. Robots, broadly defined, will continue to find a place in business, but their capabilities will be focused on specific tasks. Don’t look for an affordable, practical robot butler any time soon—there’s quite a bit of R&D work yet to do before that happens. You may be mesmerized by the robots over at our neighbor Boston Dynamics’ office but trust me, there’s no robot uprising coming….yet.
  • Worries about societal effects of automation are overblown. As a species, we have always adapted to automation and other changes in technology and the nature of work, and we will continue to do so in ways that make us richer, healthier and happier.

A lot of these points are fully in motion as I type this today. We have our neural engine chips in our phones and we have our Alexa’s at home. In my opinion, the AI revolution isn’t even the future at this point, it’s happening now and if your business isn’t on the bandwagon, it’s already falling behind.

Looking Forward
What else do we have to look forward to? Remember the four pillars I mentioned earlier? Although each of them is exciting in its own way, the real impact will be felt in applications that combine two or more of these technology areas.

Consider the healthcare field. By combining IoT sensors (monitoring vital signs and other health metrics), big data (combining the sensor data of thousands or millions of users) and machine learning to spot patterns, doctors will more easily diagnose health problems (or at least narrow down the set of possible diagnoses), often before the patient even feels any symptoms. This has already been done and will continue to grow in efficiency and accuracy as more data is collected.

As another example, imagine a complex industrial process involving many interrelated machines. In the past, such a system depended on human operators to monitor parameters (such as temperature, pressure, and flow rate) to spot signs of abnormal or inefficient operation. Gradual changes in these parameters, however, might not be noticed in time to prevent equipment failure and resulting downtime. With IoT and machine learning, signs of equipment failure could be identified and corrected earlier. As an extra added bonus, such a system could automatically tweak the operational settings to run the plant at peak efficiency at all times—that’s an example of a robot at work.

The possibilities are quite literally endless. And with the great recent advances in the state of the art for each of the four pillars, we should be reaping the benefits in many different ways in the short term.

At AndPlus, we are beyond excited about what lies ahead and are proud to be at the front of the revolution. We look forward to helping our clients realize the power of these emerging technologies.

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