Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on Inc. here.
For the past few years, there has been a mantra that “every business is a software business.” While that’s true, it’s also becoming outdated. Software is such an obvious part of doing business that you no longer need to acknowledge it.
So here’s an update to that maxim: “Every business is an AI business.”
That’s not quite the case yet, but every company should be experimenting with AI before that is the case. That’s because AI is the biggest wave to hit business since the PC revolution in the late 1970s and 1980s and the advent of the commercial Internet in the 1990s.
As with those previous waves, companies that try to ignore the change or put off adapting to it will suffer. That’s because there’s an AI solution to every business problem. AI-based startups are going to exploit this capability. Some savvy established companies already are.
There is an AI solution to every business problem
Businesses often face a situation in which there are seemingly endless choices that require a bottomless supply of data. That scenario plays to the strengths of AI As the Harvard Business School’s Anastassia Fedyk has written, machine learning – the most visible problem-solving subset of AI – is best employed to address problems that are contained from outside influences. For instance, machine learning is good at predicting the likelihood that a given user will click on an ad. It is also useful for finding text that has been used before.
While deep learning – a more advanced form of machine learning – will eventually grapple with uncontained situations, there are plenty of problems that machine learning can solve. In addition to advertising and text, machine learning can also curate user-generated content, surfaces relevant products for searches and can parse online discussions to understand consumer behavior.
Watch out for AI-based startups
These sound like neat parlor tricks until you see companies using these solutions. Riminder, for instance, helps HR departments use internal and external data to find ideal job candidates. InsideSales.com offers a predictive scoring and analytics sales platform. Avaamo makes chatbots that can handle the bulk of customer service interactions.
For customer interactions that chatbots can’t take on, Cogito (an OpenView portfolio company) is the answer. Their AI monitors phone calls between a customer service representative and a customer and then coaches the rep during the call to help make the customer experience better. The customer ends up happier, the reps are happier, and the supervisors of the reps are happier. Everyone is better off.
While these companies might not directly challenge your business, competitors that use them for HR, sales and customer service might quickly gain an edge. Such startups are likely to multiply. High salaries and a huge demand for AI talent is prompting huge interest in learning about AI Right now, “Introduction to Machine Learning” is the hottest class at MIT.
Companies already using AI
Tech-oriented companies have a natural advantage when it comes to AI So it’s not surprising to see that they’re well ahead of the game. For example, one of the reasons Netflix has become even bigger than any of the four major networks is that it uses machine learning to recommend programming that viewers might be interested in, based on their viewing history and other factors.
The implication for everyone else is clear: If you don’t start embracing AI then these tech giants will get into your business or rivals empowered by AI will. Like the internet, AI isn’t optional.
The challenge is that AI is still in its infancy right now. It seems like there’s no urgent need to use it. There’s also a strong temptation to wait until the technology improves. That’s a big mistake. There are plenty of real-world applications for AI in 2017. More important, if businesses want to be around in 2027 they need to start embracing AI today.