Out of all the trends discussed at South by Southwest Interactive this year, artificial intelligence (AI) was the most common topic — both as a benefactor for and detriment to society.
While some experts foresee technology replacing human efforts, many others (ourselves included) believe that AI can truly be a helpful, welcome extension of human values, desires and accomplishments.
In order to achieve that potential, however, we must approach AI with purpose. Companies looking to transform should explore practical applications for AI that will create impact for their customers and their businesses. And the most common AI-related themes (from SXSW and beyond) should always be viewed in terms of that impact:
- Accessibility & Affordability: A recurring theme was how much AI is now in reach, thanks in large part to virtual assistants like Alexa and Google Home, as well as chatbots. But this is more than hype: the more organizations prepare to automate internal processes and customer experiences, the more they will be equipped for future changes in technology and consumer expectations — whether or not AI is the right choice for them today.
- Augmentation & Replacement: From both an ethical and a business standpoint, we must build technology to be a complement to humanity, not a replacement. Automating certain repetitive tasks, such as coding or internal processes, makes them more reliable —strengthening the brand while freeing up resources.
- Social Impact & Ethics: The debate of whether we will be disenfranchised by technology or empowered by it will be decided by one thing: education. With the increasing connectivity of everyday products, it is incumbent upon businesses to help their customers understand where their data is going and how it is being used.
- Culture & Technology: As AI furthers the blurring of lines between company and community, the importance of brand purpose comes to the forefront: what will the business commit to when faced with ethical challenges — such as how to maintain diversity and cultural sensitivity with AI — and how will they follow through at every level?
In financial services and automotive, retail and travel, the possibilities of transforming business through AI are seemingly endless. Whether gathering insights, communicating with customers, automating tasks or some yet-to-be-discovered application, it’s key to align the hype with its potential impact to your company purpose. Only then can businesses decide how to implement AI and transform for the future.