The past is full of examples where technology has completely transformed society. The invention of the railway was one; the automobile another. More recently, the Internet and smartphones have reshaped our lives both at home and at work. Today, the changes being wrought by technology are coming faster than ever, but there’s a key difference: We are now in control.
In the past, humans adapted to technology advances. But today, we are shaping technology to meet our needs and goals. The implications of this are huge. Rather than passively waiting while we assess the impact of emerging technologies, we are actively designing it, empowering us to change the world for the better.
Nowhere is this change more noticeable than in how we are beginning to interact with technology. Artificial intelligence (AI) is fast becoming a reality and will completely redefine how we interact with machines. The reason for this is simple: the more complex and intelligent a machine becomes, the simpler it is for humans to use it. The complexity is hidden from us by advanced, adaptive programming that will make interactions with machines more mature, more human and more in line with how people like to communicate.
One of the five trends identified in the Accenture Technology Vision 2017 report—AI is the new UI—demonstrates where this new human-centred user interface is heading. From intelligent autonomous driving vehicles that use computer vision, to live translations made possible by artificial neural networks, AI is making every interface both simple and smart. This trend is embodied in the growing use of conversation-based digital assistants like Amazon Echo’s Alexa. More than three million people chat with Alexa, asking it to do things like give the weather forecast, set a timer, request a car service pickup, or order paper towels.
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This is, of course, the thin end of a very large wedge. As AI develops, its use in business will become pervasive. And as its ability to mimic human cognition and communication improves, it will be deployed widely across customer-facing channels in business, vastly improving customer experiences and outcomes. An AI-enabled virtual agent, for example, will be able to collaborate across experiences and channels to give customers a complete, seamless and immediate experience. It’s like having your own, personal customer service agents, who know everything they need to know about you to answer your questions and meet your needs.
Beyond customer experience, AI is being used in the workplace to help companies make complicated technologies simple, and in the process, it is unlocking productivity and employee engagement. One great example is Rhizabot, which uses natural language interfaces to translate complex business analysis questions. Employees no longer need to create complex queries in a language the machine can understand; rather, the AI “listens" as employees ask questions in their natural language—then self-generates queries that can be run instantaneously across multiple, massive data sets. It completes the interaction by orchestrating back-end connections to provide the results.
Such momentum is being built up by AI that 85% of the business and information technology executives we spoke to for our recent Accenture Technology Vision 2017 companion survey say they will invest extensively in AI-related technologies over the next three years. And 79% believe that AI will revolutionize the way companies interact with their customers and 68% believe AI will significantly change or completely transform organizations over the next three years.
The rise of human-centred technology has created a new imperative for businesses: to add AI to enhance critical customer and employee interactions. As AI adopts the primary role of interacting with customers and employees, it will be a key point of distinction for a business versus competitors, and as such, must be considered a core competency demanding of C-level investment and strategy. Much more than just another technology tool to help increase efficiency or generate value, AI is no longer about how companies do things—it’s about who they are.
Bhaskar Ghosh is group chief executive officer at Accenture Technology Services.