AI’s real impact? Freeing us from the tyranny of repetitive tasks

Britt Spencer

In the past two or three years artificial intelligence has felt like rocket science. Companies such as DeepMind have captivated our attention. We have been wowed by developments in areas such as computer vision, machine translation and speech recognition.

In 2020, AI will begin to live up to the hype by starting to generate real economic value through its application across industries. According to consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, the widespread adoption of AI will add about $15.7 trillion (£12.8 trillion) to global GDP by 2030. Most of that business value will come not from AI-focused companies, but from the infusion of artificial intelligence into traditional industries. Early movers who embrace AI will become the winners.

One defining area of AI infusion is in the automation of repetitive tasks, using technologies such as RPA (robotic process automation). RPA will see widespread application in the work performed by functions such as accounts payable, back-office processing and various forms of data management. Routine tasks associated with a large number of jobs will now lend themselves to automation, freeing up people’s time to focus on more complex endeavours. RPA is already creating some of the most valuable AI companies in the world.

Another similar area of routine task replacement is the use of speech recognition and natural-language processing in customer service, telemarketing and telesales. New advances in these technologies allow 80 per cent of queries to a call centre to be dealt with through automated processes, while achieving higher customer satisfaction.

In addition to optimising existing processes, in 2020 we will see new applications for AI across existing industries. Retail stores will use AI to forecast demand and sales, as well as to reshape logistics and the supply chain. AI will also help maximise throughput and minimise costs in manufacturing and agriculture.

In 2020, healthcare will start to be significantly transformed by AI. While it will take several decades for AI to be fully integrated into the medical process, it is in 2020 that we will start to fully grasp AI’s potential for improving our quality of life. Expect strides to be made in the application of smart AI tools in radiology, pathology and diagnosis – leading to better treatment, faster recuperation, and lower cost. Unlike RPA and speech recognition, these tools will not replace humans, but will help them be more productive.

AI will bring personalisation to many other areas too, including banking, insurance, loans and investment. We have already seen personal recommendations of news, content and merchandise, and we will see this continue to expand.

And in education we will see AI being used to give and grade homework and exams, and to guide students through various exercises. This will free up teachers’ time to focus on students’ personal and emotional development, in areas such as resilience, empathy, creativity and compassion – qualities that will be critical to the new generations’ ability to thrive and adapt in the age of AI. In 2020, we will see AI, though still incredibly complex, start to become part and parcel of problem-solving across our lives.

Kai-Fu Lee is CEO of Sinovation Ventures

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