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November 13, 2017

What AI Taketh, It Could Also Create

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AI in general and cognitive technologies specifically are seen by a majority of enterprises not as a job killer but rather as a business imperative through which any job losses could be offset by a retooling of the digital workforce, a new survey finds.

The survey released Monday (Nov. 13) by business consultant Deloitte found that a hefty 92 percent of respondents think cognitive technologies are critical to their operations while 87 percent said they would improve products and services.

Meanwhile, 69 percent of those surveyed said they expect minimal or no job losses as they roll out cognitive technologies over the next three years. Indeed, workforce reductions ranked lowest on a list of perceived benefits from AI.

“Cognitive technologies are disrupting how organizations conduct tasks, make decisions and complete interactions internally—and with their customers,” Deloitte’s Ryan Renner noted in releasing the survey results. “The true value is created by knowing how to apply the technologies most effectively within the context of your business, marketplace, corporate culture and industry.”

The Deloitte survey conducted in August included 1,500 executives, mostly from technology, telecommunications and media companies along with financial services firms. However, the results focused on 250 “cognitive-aware” leaders.

The largest group, 40 percent, told Deloitte they expect cognitive technologies to transform their companies over the next two to three years. “Clearly, these companies feel that using AI is central to their ability to change their businesses and get ahead of their competition,” the report notes.

Fifty-eight percent of early adopters are using statistical machine learning to accelerate and scale their analytical models. More than half said they are using natural language processing. About one-third said they are deploying deep learning neural networks for tasks such as image and speech recognition.

Those applications are tied directly to the emergence and adoption of graphics processing technologies that boost the amount of computing power required to crunch big data.

The goal of the majority of these deployments is developing “smart” products and services that build on early consumer products such as Amazon Echo, Google Home and Microsoft Cortana. Among the enterprise applications are replacing spreadsheets or dashboards with cognitive tools that combine voice recognition with “flash reporting.” Others are pursuing “predictive asset maintenance” with cognitive technologies in manufacturing, the survey found.

Early adopters of cognitive technology applications from companies like Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) note they are using them to augment existing operations, including improved search results and inventory management forecasts.

Others cited integration challenges associated with machine learning tools. Among the deeper challenges are the high cost of early tools and lack of skilled employees. The survey also found lingering doubts about the maturity of natural language processing technologies.

While cognitive technologies may end up creating as many new jobs as they eliminate, more than half of those surveyed see either substantial or moderate changes in job descriptions and skills required to take advantage of cognitive technologies, Deliotte reported.

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