— Written by Beth Bischoff, Michael Mullery and Drew Shanahan
My colleagues and I jokingly follow the Fight Club rule when talking with business and IT leaders about artificial intelligence: The first rule of AI is you don’t talk about AI.
When people hear the phrase “artificial intelligence,” they often imagine complicated, expensive solutions, their minds leaping to sci-fi cultural artifacts such as the 2001 film “A.I.” by Steven Spielberg. And, since most business leaders aren’t in the market for robots that can learn to love, their eyes tend to glaze over.
But the truth is that AI is already in use in many organizations, and the technology is helping to optimize operations, simplify employees’ jobs and even boost security. Here are a few everyday use cases that illustrate the ways AI is creating business value right now.
Help from a Personal Assistant
Microsoft’s Cortana is one example of an AI-powered virtual assistant that can help automate routine tasks, freeing up users’ time for more complex projects. For instance, Cortana can set reminders, recognize voice input and answer questions using the Bing search engine.
Perhaps the most useful existing feature of such tools is the ability to check calendar availability and add events to a user’s schedule, helping workers to stay organized without interrupting their workflow. As virtual assistants continue to evolve, AI could become more essential to many knowledge workers’ jobs.
The Power of Predictive Analytics
Through the magic of machine learning, analytics programs are able to gather all sorts of business data, determine patterns based on that information and then make predictions that help organizations to optimize resource allocation. For example, predictive analytics can help organizations make decisions about when to replace the transmissions on delivery trucks, how many floor associates to schedule during certain shifts or whether a planned expansion into a new territory is likely to succeed.
Artificial intelligence is even being used inside corporate data centers to identify and prevent potential problems based on metrics and algorithms, helping to streamline maintenance and prevent downtime.
Smarter Endpoint Security
Endpoint security tools once relied primarily on antivirus signatures to prevent cyberattacks, but it’s now common for endpoint protection to be powered by AI. Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection is just one example. This cloud-based tool analyzes data collected from millions of machines around the world, looking for any activity that is out of the ordinary. Through this AI-enabled solution, Microsoft has stopped malware and ransomware attacks before top cybersecurity firms could identify them.
Chatbots Join the Conversation
While they’re still not perfect, AI-powered chatbots have come a long way over the past few years and are now being used by many companies to provide frontline customer service. Some organizations are even using chatbots for internal use — for instance, to answer employees’ questions about IT resources. Many questions still end up being escalated to human workers, but chatbots can take the most basic questions off employees’ plates, freeing them up to tackle more challenging inquiries.
Obviously, I’ve broken the Fight Club rule in discussing AI for this blog post. In actual conversations with customers, I typically breeze past the term, and instead keep the conversation focused on benefits such as employee productivity, process optimization, security and customer service. Those are topics that business and IT leaders are always happy to discuss.