What's the point of the Internet? Hard to believe, but this was a common question from business leaders in the early 1990s.
E-commerce was still a gleam in Jeff Bezos's eye. Web browsers were slow and clunky, while most useful content could only be found inside 'walled garden' environments such as AOL.
It wasn't until Bill Gates wrote his famous Internet tidal wave memo in 1995 that people woke up to the idea that this technology would eventually play a role in nearly every aspect of our lives.
A quarter of a century later, business leaders are asking similar questions of AI and machine learning. They know that it is significant, they just don't know why.
The biggest mistake I hear is when people mistake automation for machine learning. Automation (sometimes called robotic proccess automation) is still largely based on simple if-else logic: 'if this statement is true do this. If it is false then that."
When journalists talk about AI replacing human beings, this is usually what they mean, which is why most automation involves repetitive, linear tasks.
All well and good. But more complex and impactful processes require more complex logic and variables. As Eljas Linna explains:
"The law of diminishing returns dictates that at some point (surprisingly soon) the development of rule systems becomes so costly that automating the process is no longer worth the investment."
Enter machine learning. But this brings another misunderstanding. Headline grabbing machine learning research focuses on spectacular claims that include everything from curing disease to composing classical music.
And here's the problem. It's just research. Industrial-strength solutions will take many years and millions of dollars before they enter production.
So is this the time to ignore AI? Far from it. The benefits to business will focus on everyday workplace processes that simple automation cannot solve efficiently, but machine learning can:
Things like invoice processing, categorizing customer complaints and qualifying sales leads don’t sound like world-changing automations. But added up together, they ramp up the efficiency of your company by an order of magnitude.
This is what will drive the artificial intelligence revolution in business, not science-fiction solutions. The technology will embed itself in every aspect of our lives until it will be hard to imagine that we ever lived without it. A bit like the Internet in fact.
Do read Eljas Linna's article. Or at the very least print out and pin this quotation. Nothing better explains the future of AI in the workplace.
"Think about the impact of the internet. You don’t have one massive internet project, but instead, the internet is embedded in every single function around your company. The same will happen with machine learning. You want to be in the profitable high efficiency zone. So instead of doing big ML projects, embed small ML into your day-to-day RPA work and be amazed."
The law of diminishing returns dictates that at some point (surprisingly soon) the development of rule systems becomes so costly that automating the process is no longer worth the investment. This is where machine learning comes in. Used correctly, it can easily outsmart any traditional rule system while requiring far fewer resources. And even better, it unlocks automations so complex that attempting to solve them with rule systems would be laughable.