The prevalence of artificial intelligence (AI) enabled products and services in the near future will require organisations to improve their efforts to ensure responsible, transparent and productive contributions to society.
This is one of the findings of the latest Accenture Technology Vision Report for 2018. The report is compiled from research from global C-level executives and directors, with more than 100 Irish contributors.
It identifies five major trends for the coming years.
The first is Citizen AI, where as artificial intelligence grows in its capabilities — and its impact on people’s lives — businesses must move to “raise” their AIs to act as responsible, productive members of society.
The second trend is that of Extended Reality (XR) technologies, an umbrella term for augmented, mixed, virtual and future reality technologies, will remove the distance to people, information, and experiences, transforming the ways people live and work.
The third trend is data reliance and trust. By transforming themselves to run on data, businesses have created a new kind of vulnerability for themselves, the report contends, that of inaccurate, manipulated and biased data that could lead to corrupted insights, and skewed decisions with a potentially major impact on society.
The frictionless business refers to how businesses will increasingly depend on technology-based partnerships for growth, but legacy systems on which many still operate were not designed to support such partnerships at scale. To fully power the connected Intelligent Enterprise, the report warns, companies must first re-architect themselves.
The final trend is a major part of that re-engineering effort. The Internet of Thinking is about creating intelligent distributed systems. Businesses are making big bets on intelligent environments via robotics, AI and immersive experiences, says the report, but to bring these intelligent environments to life, they must extend their infrastructures into the dynamic, real-world environments they want to reach.
“Technology is now firmly embedded throughout our everyday lives and is reshaping large parts of society,” said David Kirwan, head of Technology, Accenture Ireland. “Just as cities developed around ports and then railroads, or people rebuilt their lives around electricity, the world today is reimagining itself around digital innovation – and, by extension, the companies that provide those services. This requires a new type of relationship, built on trust and the sharing of large amounts of personal information.”
The report found that among Irish contributors, 81% believe AI will work alongside humans within two years. This will be in the form of co-workers, collaborators and trusted advisors. More than three quarters of Irish businesses (78%) report that their organisations seek to gain customer trust and confidence by being transparent in their AI-based decisions and actions.
Speaking to TechPro, Kirwan said Irish organisations are already using AI for virtual agents, chatbots and the like, so that customers can interact with the organisation without having to have a person allocated. This means that people can be allocated within the process where they can provide the greatest value.
Analytics too, was an area where AI is being deployed, said Kirwan, as well as XR technologies.
“Rather than simply putting data on a screen,” he said, “you can put the [XR] headset on and you are surrounded and can interact with it. You can slice and dice it and see it moving around you.”
“It can be quite unsettling the first time you look at it, but it is very, very powerful.”
Kirwan said that a surprise in the Ireland section of the data was that more than 60% of the respondents said that they are building talent in the XR space.
“I would have thought that AI and the other things would have been a lot higher,” said Kirwan.
It was surprising that so many enterprises that are not in the technology space, but are consumers of technology, are developing capability in the XR space because they see the opportunity, he said.
With regard to the increasing reliance on data, Kirwan said there is an awareness there of the need for the solid foundation of reliable data.
He cited an example of a US airline that had been using 35 years-worth of data in its marketing efforts. However, changes over time in terms of practices, media, customer experience and technology meant that the older data was actually giving skewed results.
The usual assumption regarding data of more is better, said Kirwan, was being applied, but better results were achieved with a smaller dataset.
Organisations are conscious of this quality and verification issue, but few have taken steps to address it, he said.
“Given that we expect more and more decisions to be made by computers through AI, what if the AI is sound, but the data is problematic? That is a big problem and will reflect poorly on the business and could get you into issues, especially in profiling, where any kind of kind of bias might occur.”
While companies are aware of it, the feedback is that they have not yet taken steps to address it. Kirwan reports.
There is a school of thought, he added, that says there should be a chief data officer in order to ensure data integrity, but few enterprises have put that in place as of yet.
Organisations are getting there, he reports, with the data “inside the firewall”, the bigger challenge is when they are pulling data in from outside, and there are a lot of open questions right now.
Even within the firewall, there is more work to do, but what is outside is of greatest concern, he said.
However, the race is not necessarily to be first in applying any such new technologies, Kirwan said.
“It is a challenge to any CIO or IT director working in this space. Many IT leaders, when you are talking about new ideas, new usages — they don’t all want to be first. Many are happy to see how others go and learn from early experiences.”
The report concludes that taking advantage of the emerging technologies will require a change in how systems are organised and implemented, with a return to certain older practices.
“Enabling intelligence for the next generation of technology demands an overhaul of existing infrastructures, with a balance of cloud and edge computing, and a renewed focus on hardware to deliver intelligence everywhere.”