AI will only become a threat to our jobs if we don’t embrace it

by Sean Harrison-Smith, managing director Ceterna  

Judging by the growing fear that currently surrounds the uptake of artificial intelligence (AI), anyone would think we’re in the throes of a destructive uprising – the kind depicted in I, Robot. The rise of AI is disruptive, yes, but destructive? Not at all.

At Ceterna we’ve been party to many a debate on the matter throughout the launch of Salesforce Einstein. The difference between AI as ‘next big thing’, however, and, say, the cloud, big data or any other widely-discussed technology, is that AI discussions go a long way beyond the IT, and even the sales and marketing departments. This time, the topic is being hotly debated by sociologists, economists and even politicians.

Indeed, warning signals have emerged from reputable sources. Research produced by the Oxford Martin Group and Citi, “Technology at work: V2.0″, concludes that 35% of jobs in the UK are at risk of being replaced by automation, 47% of US jobs are at risk, and across the OECD as a whole an average of 57% of jobs are at risk. In 2015, the Bank of England chief economist, Andy Haldane warned that up to 15 million jobs in Britain are at risk of being lost to an age of robots.


Defeating the Defeatists

Future employment prospects are far less bleak than the pessimists suggest. After all, there is a substantial gap between all the highly advanced AI work and typical organisations, most of which will have heard of AI, but don’t have any idea how it can be put to use. Frustrating, of course, because the positive potential of AI in business is considerable (and starting to be realised by the early adopters) – from speech recognition systems to help deliver secure banking to machine learning algorithms that provide users with relevant content.

So is there a way to make AI practical and within reach of most companies not just the technological pacesetters? The tech giants – Amazon, Google and Salesforce – are certainly working on it while exploring of the commerciality of the technology and how it can support their respective platforms. The innovators see the technology working as decision support, adding value to the workforce and helping to meet strategic goals and drive business advantage – not to completely take over the world as so many seem to predict.

The Realistic Application of AI

According to the great Albert Einstein, ‘the definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple”. This is why Salesforce has named its AI technology after the great man and has decided to include it as an integral part of its CRM and other software.

This puts AI capabilities in the hands of all customers. Powered by advanced machine learning, deep learning, predictive analytics, natural language processing and smart data discovery, Einstein’s models will be automatically customised for every business. It will learn, self-tune and become smarter with every interaction and additional piece of data. Its intelligence will be embedded within the context of the business, automatically discovering relevant insights, predicting future behaviour and proactively recommending next best actions. 

On the marketing cloud side, Einstein will again analyse social media to measure customer sentiment and suggest the best targets. Manufacturers will be able to use it in conjunction with the Internet of Things, quickly pinpointing, for example, not just that devices are failing, but in what area this is happening and what might be the cause.

Altering Convictions

Even for Einstein, it’s still early days. Salesforce may be the first of the big names to consolidate all their acquisitions and bring the results to market but the software is still evolving and will, no doubt continue to do so. Salesforce partners have a huge role to play here in working with customers to first show them that AI will complement their skills to help them work and act smarter and then help them implement the technology in the best way for their organisation.

The best way to do this is to give real-life scenarios where Einstein could help them become more productive. For example, what if their whole day was scheduled and rearranged depending on traffic? Einstein could even send out emails to make new appointments – so not replacing people, only complementing their lives.

It’s not surprising that some organisations are wary. The business world has been battered by successive waves of new technologies over the past few years and AI could ultimately prove to be the tsunami of them all. But, in my view, this is very unlikely – and failing to embrace it could mean missing out on an opportunity for early transformation.