If I got a dollar every time artificial intelligence (AI) came up in a conversation around jobs, I would be very rich by now.

I want to spend a few minutes on the potential of AI—the way I see it. And let me tell you, it’s not in the future, it’s here and now. There is no point being an ostrich and burying our heads in the sand.

Automation has been part of our fabric since 1771, with the advent of the first fully automated spinning mill, and continues to be an integral part of every manufacturing process. Today, even as automation is prevalent across industries, we have quickly moved to the age of robotics and AI. Interestingly, the paradox of automation says the more efficient the automated systems, the more critical is the human contribution.

Human contribution is the crux of the conversation. When AI is spoken in the same breath as humans, it implies the evolution of ‘thinking’ rather than just ‘doing’. In a world where information is needed for decisions, a third of all decisions are optimal, a third are acceptable and the rest are just not right. When AI is infused with ‘cognitive’ systems—next-generation systems that work side by side with humans, accelerating our ability to create, learn, make decisions and think—it then transcends barriers of scale, speed, scope and standards, providing a broad set of capabilities that can help make optimal decisions. Cognitive will help make sense of the structured and unstructured data available—including video and images, providing us much better insights and helping us make well-informed decisions faster.

Today’s economy, of which nearly 70% is service-oriented, stands to gain from the benefits of disruptive technology.

This is a man, woman, child and machine story.

Take, for instance, a bank that has multiple products and services. By leveraging cognitive solutions, a call centre rep with average skills can now handle a complex portfolio of products and services, delivering a far better and more effective customer experience and perform a role which may have been above their skill level.

This is just one example. To explore other areas where the power of cognitive can move the needle in a big way, let’s look at healthcare and education. In both these areas, the demand far outstrips supply, and experts are scarce. The shortage of expertise and the issue of accessibility is what we need to urgently focus on.

To ensure that we can live in a world where there is rich exchange of talent, ideas, technology and capability, there is also an urgent need to look at security—both physical and digital. In this digital world where we are subject to cyber-attacks, cognitive allows us to address and anticipate this. There is no security analyst today who can keep up with the billions of security events occurring in a day. Cognitive can help shorten cyber security investigations from weeks and days, to minutes.

This, to me, is the promise and potential of a cognitive era, causing a huge shift in how organizations engage and transform, bringing a whole generation of young Indians into the middle class. I believe it will result in a fairer, better, more secure, healthier world and more.

In the digital era, as AI becomes pervasive across industries—such as healthcare, financial services, agriculture, retail and education—the attention moves to personalized experiences. Doctors can change how they interact with patients. With medical knowledge at their fingertips, they can dedicate more of their energy to understanding the patient as a person, and not just to diagnosing it medically. AI is helping doctors, farmers, teachers, bankers, students and security experts take better informed, relevant and faster decisions.

The thoughtful use of AI allows us as humans to be more human. It shows us a world that is less task-oriented and more relationship-oriented. In a world racing towards automation and technology, the maturity of AI and the discernment of a cognitive world allow us to retain our compassion, curiosity and conscience.

As machine learning gives us access to the collective knowledge of the world in an instant, it’s time to redesign our thinking, our processes and our educational systems so we can leverage these technologies.

It’s time we got to be more humane.

Vanitha Narayanan is chairman of IBM India Pvt. Ltd.

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