Shaune Jordaan, Hoorah Digital CEO, recalls that from young to very old, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is everyone’s go-to for communicating online with family and friends and searching the web for news and entertainment. Then there is online shopping, which has quickly become a matter of necessity across the board.

Just when we thought AI had more of a place in sci-fi movies than our everyday lives, enter Covid-19 and the associated lockdowns and restrictions of movement, and suddenly everyone is getting more comfortable with this new technology and its offerings. Yes, AI was already part of our daily lives, even before the pandemic struck, but individuals and businesses alike were forced to consider the myriad opportunities it offers, much more quickly than would otherwise have been the case.

For the sake of clarity, it is useful to be able to differentiate between the different forms of AI, in line with the expert definitions detailed here:

Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI): the only AI we have for now, ANI focuses on a single narrow task. Examples include Google Translate, Google Assistant and Siri. 

Artificial General Intelligence (AGI): when AI is as capable as a human, it is referred to as AGI. Much of this capability is still being developed, with the biggest hurdle being our understanding of exactly how the human brain functions – for now.

Artificial Super Intelligence (ASI): this form of AI is capable of more than humans. What differentiates humans from machines today includes the ability to be creative, make decisions and nurture emotional relationships. ASI will be able to do all this.

If you needed any further persuading that AI is more ubiquitous than we have ever realised, consider how many aspects of our daily lives are already influenced by this technology. Examples with which we routinely – and comfortably – interact include smartphones, social media feeds, media streaming services, navigation and travel, banking and finance, and security and surveillance, among others. 

What these examples have in common is the ability to understand patterns, learn from them, and then make decisions (and recommendations) based on that information – very similar to the way in which the human brain responds to patterns. So it is clear AI is here to stay, but what about the implications for businesses into the next decade?

Seek first to understand 

Firstly, it is important for businesses to understand that AI is not a goal in itself, so forget about a utopian (or dystopian, depending on your disposition) world, and rather focus on what it realistically means for different types and sizes of organisations.

A useful definition of AI is the one offered in this Business News Daily article, ‘A broad and general term that refers to any type of computer software that engages in humanlike activities, including learning, planning and problem-solving.’ More simply, AI refers to the ability of machines to understand the world in much the same way humans do, and then to mimic these decisions. 

Today, AI is less about sci-fi and more about solutions, so whether your business objective with AI is to delight customers or improve operational efficiencies, the point is always to apply it as a solution to optimise and improve aspects of your operations. 

Some of the ways in which AI for business is already being applied include the transferring and cross-referencing of data, analysing customer behaviour for forecasting purposes and product recommendations, fraud detection, customer service – both telephonically and via chatbots – and personalised marketing and advertising.  

The Harvard Business Review suggests that marketing, supply chain management and manufacturing are the sectors in which we are most likely to see AI at work. Opportunities to optimise efficiency and streamline processes is AI’s business edge, which suggests that finance, banking, healthcare, education, transport and waste management are all industries for which it presents solutions.

Consider the points below if AI is on your business strategy radar: 

Get familiar with AI

As with any other new or unfamiliar process, tool or system, the first step is to get yourself acquainted with the details of AI. No one is expecting you to be an expert, but definitely ensure your functional understanding is sufficient to ensure you can ask the right questions. It is an evolving capability, so staying informed and maintaining an interest in AI, and how it pertains to your business, is key.

Identify what it is that you need it to do for you

The following example illustrates the point. Smartwatches are pretty omnipresent today; they count our steps, measure our heart rate, display our WhatsApp messages and congratulate us on our moving goals. But, let us be honest, most of those who sport such a watch does not use it for anywhere near that of which it is actually capable. Of course, if you are a marathon runner, competitive cyclist or someone who has more than a surface-level understanding of VO2 Max, then it definitely makes sense to have one. The bottom line is that if your exercise regimen involves merely walking the dogs, you probably don’t need to make the investment.

AI can be like this too. Unless you have a specific need for it – and a measurable one at that – the rationale for investing in the technology of this nature is probably both misguided and an unnecessary overcapitalisation.

Define and concretise its potential value

Similar to the point above, ensure that you are clear on the value of AI and how it relates to your overarching business goals. Much like big data, which doesn’t have a value in and of itself unless it is analysed, interpreted and applied, AI must have a clear purpose in order to be useful.

Work with experts

AI is a specialist field, and while the IT team might know more about it than the finance team, it remains a sub-specialisation that, if you are serious about it, requires the knowledge, experience and expertise of those who have chosen to study it. Skip the shortcuts, because they are always more expensive and time-consuming in the long run.

Review and measure

You can’t manage what you don’t measure. AI, just like any other business function, needs to be measured and managed. Arguably the most important thing to understand is, as highlighted by Dr Mark Eposito, co-founder of Nexus Frontier Tech, in this article, ‘AI doesn’t start with AI. It starts at the company level’. It is a means to an end, and the end is determined by the objectives of the business. AI simply helps to make it happen – in a smarter and more efficient way.