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The idea of artificial intelligence (AI) has been around for a long time. The idea of machines having human like brain capacity has been a dream for many and is a lucrative cash cow for Hollywood. We have been told of the benefits and warned of the dangers; we have considered the possibilities and now, with the Internet of things (IoT) and smart devices becoming even smarter, there stands a good chance that AI will become a fully fledged reality sooner than we imagined.

You are probably already aware of how AI can affect our daily lives through the introduction of Apple’s Siri, Google Home, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Amazon’s Alexa. AI is the foundation of all these technologies and its most impressive function is that it can adapt and learn from usage. The more you use AI, the more it accumulates knowledge to improve. This list shows how much AI can do already and will continue to grow. These benefits of AI will also become more prominent in the business world, with almost a third (32 per cent) of companies believing AI’s greatest impact will be in sales, marketing or customer service, while one in five (20 per cent) see AI’s impact being largest in non-customer facing corporate functions, including finance, strategic planning, corporate development and HR, all by 2020. (Source)

This is not the first time that AI has been expected to make a huge leap forward. In 2014, there was a computer AI that passed the Turing Test. The test was proposed by Alan Turing, the father of modern computing, in an essay: He based the test off of a Victorian parlour game. The aim is to have a judge sit at a screen and ask a series of questions to two people. However, one of these ‘people’ is actually a computer. The test is only passed if the judge cannot tell which is human and which is a machine. A computer program called Eugene Goostman that adopts the persona of a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy, passed the test at an event organised by the University of Reading (Source). Although there is still some debate from other computer scientists as to the validity of the test in terms of scientific method, it is noteworthy that a program is capable of passing shows how far modern technology has come and how we continue to be in awe of its progress.

“We’re in this era where businesses are digitally transforming themselves to provide better customer experiences to a set of customers that have completely different buying habits than they did five years or 10 years ago,” says Des Cahill, Oracle CX evangelist. “Businesses need to understand that this digital transformation is happening, and AI will be a critical part of the digital capabilities they need.”(Source)

Forrester has predicted a 300% plus increase in investment into AI. This isn’t over the course of the next few years but is a year on year estimate, from 2016 to 2017. This is expected to increase further as more major institutions begin to take on AI, to stay ahead of the curve. One of the latest examples is the Bank of England, who has agreed to work with the Canadian business, Mindbridge AI, to analyse financial transactions to spot abnormalities.

This has caused concern amongst many businesses, as the rise of AI could potentially threaten the livelihoods and careers of numerous workers in varying industries and sectors. Even the famous billionaire Elon Musk thinks that AI could potentially replace the vast majority of jobs, indicating a need for basic income programs worldwide. The issue isn’t so much that technology is destroying jobs, but that it is wiping out an entire class of jobs whilst not creating new set. Whereas before we had a machine replace a worker, then that worker was trained to look after and maintain the machine, we are now deleting an entire skill class. AI is self-sustaining and thus, once implemented, won’t need regular maintenance. The following quote from Forbes’ article about AI poses a larger question that would affect industries at large.

We still speak of companies as being formed by humans and then run by AI systems. Those AI systems might have been originally built by humans or be self-designed offsets of those human-designed AI systems and thus considered to be “owned” by the human-run company that created their first generation design. But, in a world with sentient AI systems, is it conceivable that entirely new companies could be formed by AI systems that spring into existence? If a group of AI systems come up with a new idea, could they form their own company to market that product and commission their own robotic factories to manufacture it? If such AI systems were powered by computing clusters that span the globe, could such companies rightfully claim to transcend geographic boundaries, since their “officers” are not citizens of any country and physically reside in many countries at once?

In our attempts to create an international community and peaceful world, technology has been a critical tool. This could be a potentially unifying force in global industry. It could affect our jobs, our buildings, our manufacturing processes and so much more. AI will help make all of our lives, both personal and professional, easier and more efficient. Technology is marching forward, so now is the time to start considering what happens when AI takes a mainstream foothold and what we, as a society and as businesses, need to do afterwards.