Top AI stories of 2017

In the sci-fi film Ex Machina, reclusive inventor Nathan Bateman foresees a bleak future, telling the movie's protagonist Caleb that, “One day the AIs are going to look back on us the same way we look at fossil skeletons on the plains of Africa.”  When we don’t understand something, we tend to fear it; which is one reason popular movies like Ex Machina and HBO’s nail-biting new series Westworld like to imagine futures in which artificial intelligence plots to destroy humanity. 

Fortunately, AI is far more likely to recommend those titles to your Netflix queue than to result in a dystopian society out of a George Orwell novel. While technologies including Amazon’s Alexa have been busy making people’s lives outside of the workplace easier, bots were the big office story in 2016, helping companies handle routine tasks such as managing support tickets and streamlining workflows. 

In the coming years, machine learning will take on more of the non-routine work as well, ushering in the new era of artificial intelligence—one that looks to be far brighter than the future Hollywood typically envisions.  

Big data

“Big data” is a bit of a misnomer. It’s like referring to a whale as “zooplankton.” The digital universe isn’t just big; it’s a leviathan that’s becoming more massive by the day. Currently, the amount of information being collected is doubling in size every two years. Last year, it broke the zettabyte barrier. To put that in perspective, one zettabyte is around 1,000 times the size of an exabyte, which, in turn, can hold roughly 170,000 times the number of books currently stored in the British Library

Now imagine an interminable English literature class in which the teacher assigns you a stack of Herman Melville’s classic Moby Dick to read one after another…for the next 200 billion years! That’s probably worse than the worst recurring nightmare you ever had in secondary school—and that’s just a single zettabyte! By 2020, there will be 44 of them. As the grey matter for AI, big data will be a big deal in 2017.

 The IoT

Today, there are more connected devices than there are people. Consider the implications for an app like Waze. Today, Waze relies on crowdsourcing to help tens of millions of motorists “outsmart traffic” worldwide. As the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to expand, sensors embedded throughout a vehicle will add even more functionality to the app. In addition to alerting you to maintenance issues like out-of-alignment tyres or guiding you to a petrol station when you’re low on fuel, it will communicate with systems such as the above-mentioned Alexa to adjust the temperature in your residence based on current weather conditions—long before you even pull into the drive. 

At work, organisations in every industry will use sensors plugged into their collaboration hubs to exchange data in real-time, predicting delivery delays and controlling the office environment based on people’s personal algorithms and preferences. 2017 will be the year that IoT goes mainstream and it will be so intuitive you will hardly even notice.  

Predictive analytics

Predictive analytics can shorten the sales process by up to 30 per cent and increase conversion rates by up to 10 per cent, according to a recent McKinsey study. For that reason alone, expect it to begin playing a much bigger role in enterprise decision-making in 2017. Analytic and statistical techniques can also be a lifesaver for leaders as more and more employees become involved in non-routine work. For example, it’s often difficult today for managers to identify the right individuals for specific teams or certain jobs. 

By using network analysis of metadata to accurately identify amplifiers and drivers across a network regardless of title, role or department, executives will be freed to focus on non-routine work of their own, including strategy and innovation.

Work graph

Big players like Microsoft and Facebook made a lot of noise in the collaboration space in 2016 with the release of Teams and Workplace, respectively. Yet, while team-based messaging may be all the rage, those apps don’t solve one of the biggest obstacles to successful collaboration: fragmentation. In fact, they create even more silos than they solve. It’s much the same story with stack solutions that don’t connect to one another in any kind of intuitive way. 

In 2017, organisations will turn to interactive intranets to unite all those disparate solutions into a single collaboration hub, ensuring that valuable metadata is visible, searchable and memorable across the enterprise, adding to corporate memory. Eventually, the work graph will become even more powerful and intuitive, taking on even more of the non-routine work within companies.

Interactivity

Voice-first and VR: The enterprise will begin getting a lot more interactive in 2017. Boosts in both quality and speed are making speech recognition technology a must have at home; and now it’s ready to help make your work life easier as well. You’ll be able to tell your AI assistant to organise your inbox, create a document and keep your meetings on track. While most people believe virtual reality (VR) is only good for gaming, it is already driving truly incredible innovations, which will only accelerate in the coming year. Imagine using VR to review large-scale process improvements in your organisation, allowing you to not only see, but to interact with the proposed changes and make adjustments before any resources are dedicated to the project. 

Today’s employees have more opportunities to be happier and more engaged in their work than ever before. Rather than relegating human beings to a future in which machines run the show, AI will free us to be even more human. After all, it’s human relationships that have propelled civilisation forward for more than 10,000 years. In the words of Herman Melville, “I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I'll go to it laughing.”  

John Schneider, vice president of product marketing at Jive Software  
Image Credit: PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek / Shutterstock