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Ryan E. Day

Innovation

Artificial Intelligence—Salvation or Skynet?

No matter the moniker, AI is already changing the way business gets done

Published: Thursday, September 21, 2017 - 12:03

Every other day I stumble over an article about losing jobs to artificial intelligence (AI), AI being the demi-savior of mankind, or being the digital antichrist. So, exactly what is AI and what’s the big deal?

What is AI?

The question of what artificial intelligence is, immediately begs the prerequisite question, “What is intelligence?” When broken down, the first part of the term is easy. By artificial, we are all talking about computers rather than brains. The intelligence part is a little trickier. Intelligence might be understood as a computational ability—to take information in and synthesize it to be of use in a personal way. Which computers do... sort of, with programming, which is like humans... sort of. It may be the difficulty of differentiating artificial and human intelligence that creates such angst.

What’s the big deal?

So, is it “The Rise of the Machines” that we fear, or is it really just a matter of job security? Apparently, that question is just as tricky as “What is AI?”

The highest-profile AI celebrity is probably IBM’s Watson platform. At the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in 2015, John Kelly, who leads the Watson AI team at IBM, said, “Watson won’t be replacing humans anytime soon.”

Today’s heavy hitters have markedly differing views.

Elon Musk warns that AI could be the cause of WW III.

Mark Zuckerberg’s glowing report states, “AI is closer to being able to do more powerful things than most people expect—driving cars, curing diseases, discovering planets, understanding media.”

Trump’s new (future-ex?) Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin seems oblivious about AI as he told Mike Allen of Axios, “It’s not even on our radar screen... 50 to 100 more years [before AI is ready for manufacturing applications].”

But today, mass media company Condé Nast is tapping into Watson to help build and strategize social influencer campaigns.

Asset management firm Aidyia employs AI to identify tradable signals and identify market inefficiencies.

And this year, one of the famed Superbowl ads introduced viewers to H&R Block—with Watson.

Sooo... are fears of job-stealing AI realistic, or a case of misunderstanding?

Some forms of computer assistance, such as dinCoud’s James the “virtual robot” invoke ideas of AI, and contrary to what Mnuchin thinks—James is ready to roll right now.

“A virtual robot, James in this case, essentially falls into the category of robotic process automation,” explains Ali Din, general manager and CMO at dinCloud. “Ours is a service that gives people an end-user perspective into the test process; that could be a QA process or some kind of end-to-end monitoring, but with James it’s being done through the lens of what an individual would do when he’s logging in and going through the different steps of a process. Standard monitoring tools that measure things like network performance or server uptime are looking with a system-level view. James is looking from an end-user perspective.

“As good as human QA testers may be, they are susceptible to distractions and inconsistencies.”

Not to mention calling in sick or showing up to work late. James is, however, exactly what Din says it is—automation. James is an automation solution, and a very good one. Complete with dinCloud’s customization and support services that can help organizations realize increased productivity.

But that isn’t AI.

If we want to see AI in the workplace today, we can see that in Infor’s Coleman offering.

According to Infor’s website, Coleman is “AI trained on diverse network, enterprise graph, and industry-specific data sets.”

“Coleman could be considered our blanket AI solution,” says Rick Rider, senior product manager for technology at Infor. “Our strategy across the Infor OS platform is to have AI as a core of every single cloud suite and every single product offering. That means we can provide a cohesive connected intelligence platform.”

To my mind, the possibilities of AI plugged into an organization’s entire database are staggering.

Infor reinforces my view with its statement that, “Coleman represents a giant leap forward for artificial intelligence at scale—incorporating deep reservoirs of network data to serve the needs of human minds and make connected devices infinitely smarter.”

What does this mean in a workplace environment?

“We can finally see the user experience in the ERP world being less and less about software navigation and instead more about self-service inquiry,” explains Rider. “Coleman is there to augment, automate, and advise.”

One of the key features of Coleman is its ability to interface with its human counterpart conversationally. Coleman uses natural language processing and image recognition to chat, hear, and talk.

Some examples of what a user could ask Coleman:
• “Coleman, what is the accounts receivable balance for ACME Corp.?”
• “Coleman, what's the next best offer for this customer?”
• “Coleman, who is the sales rep on the ABC Labs account?”
• “Coleman, what price should I charge for a hotel room?”
• “Coleman, what are sales by month for the NW region this year?”
• “Coleman, how much PTO do I have left?”
• “Coleman, create a requisition for item 4321.”
• “Coleman, approve the promotion for Nurse Jones.”

Infor explains that, “It’s not here to replace your job—Coleman’s here to help you do your job exponentially better.”

I can think of a million ways it could do exactly that for me.

However…

It seems to me that the AI revolution will, in many ways, mirror the industrial revolution. We would be well served if we pondered the same issues because AI is here. Is that a bad thing? Anyone want to go back to the good old days before the internet and industrial automation? I don’t....

However, it cannot be denied that we are witnessing the marriage of AI, ERP, and robotics. Is it conceivable that there may be unintended consequences when robots are building and repairing robots, and AI begets and programs AI?

Discuss

About The Author

Ryan E. Day’s picture

Ryan E. Day

Ryan E. Day is a contributing editor and the content-marketing coordinator at Quality Digest. With a varied career from mechanic to artist to inventor holding a U.S. patent, but a journalist at heart, he’s produced freelance feature articles, op-ed pieces, ad copy, and display communications.