Imagine robots taking over the world, humans battling androids for survival, and bionic warriors turning against their makers to establish a new world order. This fantasy may sound like a far-fetched, Orwellian take on a sci-fi movie, but there is some truth behind the madness. Technology has infiltrated our personal lifestyles. Between apps, social media, and the internet, we spend more time nowadays engrossed in the internet than we do communicating with one another. Artificial Intelligence seeks to take the presence of technology in our society one step further. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a computer capable of reasoning as humans do, thinking as humans do, and imitating intelligent human behavior.
As this technology becomes more sophisticated, trends have emerged depicting AI as filling jobs traditionally thought to be unthreatened by machines. Businesses are considering or have already used AI as customer service representatives, salesmen, and delivery people, just to name a few. As an aspiring accountant this topic is important to me because I have been told that AI could either wipe away accounting jobs entirely, or allow us more time to spend on creative projects by replacing the mundane, repetitive work only. Either way, it is imperative to study the trend of AI in the business world so that we can choose our fields of study and diversify our resumes based on what jobs businesses will likely use AI for. This trend report will give the reader an understanding of how AI emerged, where this trend stands today using two examples that actual businesses have applied, and its prospects for the future.
AI has been studied for decades, and still remains one of the most mysterious topics in Computer Science. AI ranges from machines capable of thinking independently to those who search algorithms to achieve tasks. Business trends today involve using the latter type, which serves as a computer program that aims to mimic human expertise in one or more specific knowledge areas. This type of AI is called an Expert System. Expert systems, as a subset of AI, were first developed by the Rand-Carnegie Team in the 1950’s. Their goal was to develop a general problem solver to deal with simple tasks such as geometric problems or chess. Expert Systems first emerged as a trend in the business world during the 1960’s and 1970’s, during which time they were increasingly used as industrial applications. Some of the earliest examples of Expert Systems being used in business include DENDRAL (a chemical structure analyzer), XCON (a computer hardware configuration system), MYCIN (a medical diagnosis system), and ACE (AT&T's cable maintenance system).
The success of these systems sparked an unprecedented fascination with AI technology, and Expert Systems became a competitive tool to maintain technological advantages within the industry. By the end of the 1980’s, over half of the Fortune 500 companies were involved in applying Expert Systems, and the usage of AI grew at a rate of 30% a year during this period. Companies like DEC, TI, IBM, Xerox and HP, and universities such as MIT, Stanford, Carnegie-Mellon, Rutgers and others have been involved in developing expert system technology and pursuing practical applications.
Nowadays, Expert Systems can be found in many different industries without our even knowing. These industries include health care, chemical analysis, credit authorization, financial management, corporate planning, oil and mineral prospecting, genetic engineering, automobile design, and manufacture and air-traffic control. Expert Systems have advantages over traditional computer systems in that they have developed a permanent storage for knowledge and expertise, and are capable of providing consultation once they are programmed to ask for and use inputs.
The trend among businesses today is developing these features to the extent that AI is capable of receiving inputs from humans and producing the desired output. The intended result could be an AI robot in customer service receiving customer requests (the input), and communicating with the customer to fulfil their requests (the output). Another possible example could be an AI robot as a salesman actively conversing with customers about what kind of car they are interested in (the input) and creating a persuasive pitch as to why they should by a particular automobile (the output). Although AI technology is not quite this sophisticated yet, examples of how this technology has been applied in business prove that AI has potential to reach unprecedented functionality in the near future.
In the critically acclaimed “Iron Man” movies, we are introduced to a character named Jarvis. Jarvas is Tony Stark’s supercomputer, capable of independently assessing Tony’s needs and even engages in “small talk” with Tony at various points throughout the films. Although this sort of AI technology seems to be decades away, a prototype modeling Jarvis's design is available in the market today. In November of 2014, Amazon launched the highly anticipated “Alexa.” Alexa is a general information tool capable of voice interaction and using itself as a home automation system.
Alexa is a conversational AI system, which means that Alexa utilizes our most natural form of interaction. Amazon Alexa is a voice driven technology that allows us to ask about the weather, order products online, or even call a cab simply by asking. Alexa applies voice user interface (VUI) to communicate with people in a way that feels effortless, solves problems, and gets smarter over time. This is a huge advancement in the way we interact with computers because this new method of human-computer interaction makes complex computer applications more accessible to people. Conversations can be complex emotionally and conceptually, and they encompass much more than just input and output. During speech, how we say things can matter just as much as how we say things. Computers have great difficulty grasping nuances such as tone or engagement. These subtleties have proven to be a necessary threshold AI needs to overcome to be considered a cornerstone of the upcoming business world. Alexa has become a pioneer in developing VUI technology, and although there are still many ways Alexa could improve, this product has proven to enable human-computer interactions that we have dreamed about for decades.
Google Allo is another product that has elevated the standard for AI. Google Allo is a smart messaging app that allows users to express themselves with stickers, doodles, and various emojis. Google Allo has many applications that make it an innovative app, but there are two features in particular that have contributed to the AI trend. Firstly, the Smart Reply feature uses an advanced Expert System to keep conversations moving. Smart Reply studies the way you text and suggests responses or emojis based on you personality. For example, it learns if you are more of a “haha” or “lol” person, and will decide which of the two it suggests you use for certain conversations. The more you use Google Allo, the more it learns about your communication patterns. One could possibly have a whole conversation on Google Allo simply by tapping a suggested emoji or response. This is testimony to the incredible progress AI has made in adapting to human modes of communication.
Another feature Google Allo utilizes is its Google Assistant feature. Google Assistant is basically a robot on the app that answers any questions or fulfills any requests the user may have. Simply text Google Assistant and it will respond with how to find restaurants nearby, get directions, share videos, get the latests scores from the game, your flight itinerary, and set reminders just to name a few examples. Google Assistant is another example of innovation regarding human-machine communication because it evidences the capability of AI to adapt to human rhetoric. The ability of AI to adapt to human conversation is the greatest challenge facing AI in the market today. Both Google Assistant and Smart Reply are significant developments in surpassing this obstacle because they foreshadow the progress AI can make in the near future.
For decades AI and Expert Systems have become integrated into many aspects of our technology. AI technology is simply not going to leave anytime soon. However, the trend of applying AI as a robot capable of interacting with humans has just begun, and will be growing exponentially in upcoming years. Products like Amazon Alexa and Google Allo have already shown great promise that AI is capable of interpreting and responding to human conversation. The success of these products has given businesses incentive to continue investing in this technology, and already we are seeing products like self-driving cars entering the market. Furthermore, businesses are pushing home systems like Alexa as a way of ensuring that consumers buy their other products to link with the homy systems. This trend will eventually become the norm because businesses understand that the next level of technology to saturate the market and lifestyles of the average American will be a subset of AI.
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Smith, C., McGuire, B., Huang, T., & Yang, G. (n.d.). The History of Artificial Intelligence. University of Washington Press. Retrieved from https://courses.cs.washington.edu/courses/csep590/06au/projects/history-ai.pdf.