It’s hard to move these days without encountering the term “AI” somewhere in our lives. If ever there was a time that organizations have jumped on a bandwagon, this is it. It has become the ‘Big New Thing’, and it’s being applied everywhere conceivable. You can even buy an AI-powered coffee machine.

But what does AI really mean? Not the dictionary definition; that’s readily available online. No, what does it really mean to consumers of computer services and applications, either within business or as end-users?

The AI surge: Bandwagon or breakthrough?

Whenever a new technology comes along, any sensible organization will evaluate it and ask themselves what benefit it can bring to their business. AI is in that stage now, with companies drowning in buzzwords and wondering where it might fit. If they are having to ask themselves “how can we use it”, then it is clearly not selling itself as a use-case; if you have to think whether or not a technology fits your business, it has failed at the first hurdle.

But wind back a few years. Lots of what is now labelled AI has actually been around for years, it just didn’t have the label. You’ve been able to ask Bing or Google free-text questions (by typing or speaking) and they’ve provided accurate results. Amazon’s Alexa will “bong” at the right time, whether she was awoken with a clear voice or a voice suffering from the flu or a sore throat, yet she still manages it without skipping a beat. But Alexa was never really labelled as being AI driven, yet it’s still the same Alexa now as it was back then.

But Alexa is not infallible. Questions can be misinterpreted, the context can be misunderstood, or the topic being requested may be so obscure that Amazon’s vast “learning” repository simply doesn’t know enough to answer sensibly.

Embracing the AI revolution where it truly fits are no different; as a provider of both services and products, AI is an important concept to embrace. We are not asking ourselves “does it fit”; we know the answer to that (it does). The key challenge for a company like ours is to embrace it where it’s appropriate to do so. It is not some magic bullet, as some companies would have you believe. But if AI is implemented in a way that helps reduce an end-user’s workload – perhaps providing a bare-bones document for them to tweak – then it’s worthwhile.

Any new technology must be assessed for benefits, but also for risks. Imagine utilizing Generative AI to write a bare-bones document. What a fantastic time-saver that could be. There’s every likelihood this might be the route chosen by somebody inexperienced in the relevant subject matter, to give them a head-start. But like humans, Generative AI is only as good as the training material it has learned from. If that material is flawed, then not only will it generate rogue output – not spotted by the inexperienced user – but that same generated output will most likely get fed back into the same or a different AI engine, thereby propagating that error. Recognizing this as a risk, and how to either mitigate or prevent it, is a key activity in embracing any new technology, and AI is no different.

AI’s impact on everyday living

Certain writers in the industry believe that AI will transform the way us mere humans will live our lives, and there is undoubtedly some truth in that. But this transformation won’t be some “big bang” we wake up to one day. It will be through incremental improvements to everything we touch and engage with, little improvements that – when taken together – make our daily lives easier. Alexa’s early “career” was never labelled as being AI, but under the covers that’s exactly what it was, and millions of people talk daily to their Alexa pocket companions. 

The benefits of an AI-powered coffee machine remain to be seen.