Home / Opinion / Online-views /  The growing role of artificial intelligence in business

To meet growing consumer expectations in a digitally-driven world, companies have to deal with huge amounts of real-time data and create personalized consumer experiences to stay relevant. As such, they are increasingly employing newer technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), cognitive computing and robotics, among others.

From Apple’s assistant Siri to self-driving cars, evolution of AI has been transformational, to the extent that it seems to replicate human characteristics, intellect and behaviour. While scientists and experts including Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have warned against the risks and hazards associated with fully developed and self-aware AI machines, the market is expected to grow rapidly. According to a recent International Data Corp. (IDC) report, AI is expected to drive worldwide revenues from nearly $8 billion in 2016 to more than $47 billion in 2020, across a broad range of industries.

The applications of AI range from detecting trends in data to mitigate market risks, enhancing customer service through virtual personal assistants, or even analysing millions of documents across a company’s servers to find compliance failures. But it is only recently that companies have been able to anticipate and envision the possibilities that AI and robotics can bring to the future of the business world.

More often than not, the use of AI in business goes unnoticed—especially by the consumers. For instance, few people are aware that the Airbnb application uses Aerosolve, a machine learning (ML) tool, to deliver its dynamic pricing feature. Google’s Translate API also uses ML to deliver accurate translations, as it assesses how words relate to each other.

AI helps human decision-making

With ML algorithms becoming smarter and with computing power increasing manifold, the power and success of AI is bound to grow. Although AI currently has a difficult time completing common-sense tasks in the real world, it is adept at processing and analysing troves of data far more quickly than a human brain could. AI can then return with a number of synthesized courses of action and present them to the human user. In this way, humans can use AI to figure out possible consequences of each action and streamline the decision-making process. Now, merging human interactions with AI seems to be a possible solution for managing customers’ needs. For instance, Google’s search engine uses thousands of human ‘raters’ to assess the quality of its AI-driven search results. Facebook’s facial recognition software asks people to label their photos to improve accuracy.

AI leverages self-learning systems by using tools like data mining, pattern recognition and natural language processing. So, in terms of its key business advantages over human intelligence, AI is highly scalable, resulting in phenomenal cost savings. Besides, AI’s consistency and rule-based programs allow enterprises to minimize their errors. Its longevity, coupled with continuous improvements and its ability to document processes, translates into rewarding business opportunities.

How AI can transform business

Indian firms across diverse sectors such as healthcare, education, auto, banking and retail are increasingly tapping AI to transform their businesses. ICICI Bank, for instance, has been experimenting with robotics and AI, through which their email bot sorts out customer and distributor emails on the status of transactions and other similar things, which has helped the bank reduce its customer response time.

Most big e-tailers like Amazon India are exploring AI solutions to cut costs and overheads, and also to make their platform superior, intuitive and smart. For instance, AI is capable of learning the latest fashion trends by analysing customers’ social media feeds, and can assist e-commerce firms in improving search results and recommendations.

AI has been effectively helping businesses decode patterns in their customers’ online behaviour and predict the probability of a product return. Most of them are resorting to customer segmentation—leveraging customer data to create specific clusters of customers with shared attributes. This allows them to boost customer loyalty by creating more personalized, relevant marketing messages. Companies such as Flipkart have already adopted this approach to effectively gauge a customer’s propensity to return a product, resulting in cost optimization. It also helps in optimizing logistics and ranking vendors based on their ‘reputation’.

Customers will continue to rely on AI to help them find and engage with businesses and, on the other hand, firms will have to rely on AI to support and service those customers. Also, employees are going to be more dependent on this technology to perform their work on a daily basis. As these systems take a more central role in the business world, every modern enterprise will need an AI strategy. When combined and designed with the consumer in mind, AI technologies can deliver solutions that drive customer loyalty, engagement, consumption and satisfaction. It is only a matter of time before companies worldwide and across sectors wake up to the real potential of AI.

Prashant Mehta is group vice-president at SapientRazorfish.

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