The release of the generative AI tool ChatGPT in November 2022 was a watershed moment. Users from around the world could access knowledge and commands that were previously the domain of experts, leading to a democratisation of data. The tool’s impressive ability to generate logical responses continues to evolve at a staggering rate, and suddenly millions of people are feeling excited about the future of AI.
Naturally, the release of ChatGPT and other conversational AI tools, such as Bard, Microsoft Bing Chat and Meta Llama 2, put AI at the top of businesses’ agendas. Companies across all sectors began to explore the potential of AI tools in earnest. But before companies go all in with AI, it’s important to understand how AI is evolving and what the future holds.
Today’s AI is Omnipresent
Today, AI is omnipresent. This means it is pervasive in our daily lives and is used by all industries in some form, from healthcare and finance to retail and entertainment. AI today is ubiquitous, highly accessible and present in routine interactions. Access to AI systems has been effectively democratised. Businesses, in particular, stand to benefit massively from today’s AI systems.
The role of AI in digital transformation
AI accelerates businesses’ digital transformation journeys, acting as both a driver and an enabler. AI systems are becoming deeply embedded in organisations because business leaders are keen to reap the benefits, including cost-savings, process efficiencies and improved productivity.
However, as of mid-2023, only one out of five businesses were using AI tools, but the majority expect to do so in the future. Of the 80% of businesses not using AI tools currently, the reasoning is split between lack of awareness or understanding, other strategic priorities, implementation costs, the technology isn’t advanced enough, or the belief that AI isn’t required.
When considering AI implementation, it’s vital to understand its position within the broader spectrum of digital transformation and business process automation. Rather than perceiving AI as a standalone product or feature, it’s better to view it as a capability enhancer that cuts across verticals.
Rejecting ‘AI theatre’
Gone are the days when AI was the preserve of tech giants and research institutions. Today, AI has been repackaged into a wide selection of products and features. However, with the commercialisation of AI, there is a growing trend of what we like to call ‘AI theatre’.
In some circumstances, the term ‘AI’ is attached to products for public perception and market appeal, even though the products lack genuine AI capabilities. The FTC even warned vendors to keep their AI claims in check, as overstated promises risk becoming the tech industry’s new snake oil. Businesses must resist the temptation to adopt what they believe to be “AI” just for its novelty and appeal to consumers. Instead, they should ensure that any AI they integrate offers real value and functionality.
Waiting for the big players
Business leaders have a decision to make: do they dive into AI adoption now, or do they wait for the big players to refine their AI solutions? While waiting seems like the safer bet, it’s important to recognise that market dynamics heavily influence this decision. In some sectors, being an early adopter of sophisticated AI can provide a significant competitive advantage, allowing businesses to set the pace rather than play catch up.
Tomorrow’s AI is Omnipotent
We are currently in the omnipresent phase of AI. Naturally, this leads us to wonder: What awaits us in the next phase? The future of AI will transition from its current omnipresent state to one of omnipotence. In this phase, AI isn’t simply everywhere—it wields significant power. AI will bolster business functions and inspire innovations, ultimately unlocking new capabilities that are waiting to be realised.
Seamless AI systems with a strategic focus
Omnipotent AI will seamlessly weave itself into the core of business operations. Its operations will become almost invisible but will be continuously felt, driving efficiencies without the need for explicit interactions with conversational AIs.
However, the future of AI requires a pivot from integration to strategic alignment with business outcomes. AI will be tailored to specific vertical use cases, ensuring its deployment directly correlates with business objectives. New and improved AI tools will facilitate this alignment.
For example, tools like Microsoft Copilot, which combine the power of LLMs with data in Microsoft apps, are precursors to AI tools that possess a deep understanding of context, which today’s AI tools sometimes lack. For businesses, this translates to AI systems that can understand the intricacies of industry-specific challenges, offering more effective insights and solutions than the ones offered today.
The question of safety, privacy and trust
In its omnipotent phase, AI will have better safety and privacy frameworks than exist today. While today’s AI systems are undoubtedly transformative, they introduce a range of privacy and safety concerns, resulting in a lack of trust. The AI of tomorrow will require holistic safety measures that not only prevent system failures but anticipate and mitigate potential unintended consequences. This process will require rigorous testing, continuous monitoring and regular intervention to correct AI decisions when necessary.
Then there is the question of privacy. The vast datasets that AI systems depend on make data privacy a necessity. Leading AI labs, such as OpenAI, are making a set of voluntary commitments to reinforce the safety, security and trustworthiness of AI systems. In AI’s omnipotent phase, advanced data protection and transparent data usage will ensure data privacy. Regarding trust, AI systems will continue to be built on ethical frameworks that avoid biases and align with our societal values, ensuring that AI users can place confidence in the technology.
The Future of AI: Omnipresence to Omnipotence
While AI is currently in the omnipresent phase, it will gradually transition into the omnipotent phase. The advancements we have witnessed so far are just the tip of the iceberg—there is much more to come. The future holds AI systems that are more closely integrated into our lives in an ethically sound, user-centric and transparent way.
For business leaders, the challenges lie not only in harnessing the power of AI but also in doing so responsibly. There is a balance to be had between commercial gains and societal impact. The next phase of AI will demand a collaborative approach between policymakers and businesses to ensure that tomorrow’s omnipotent AI serves the greater good.
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