AI on the prize: Biz leaders prepare for ‘leap of faith’

Published on the 04/09/2017 | Written by Jonathan Cotton

AI transforms business

As AI takes hold where are the likely market opportunities?...

In startup circles it has become something of a running joke: Just whisper ‘Artificial Intelligence’ and somewhere, a venture capitalist’s wallet quietly opens. And it’s true – nothing makes an investor light in the head quite like a supposedly AI-powered (and soon-to-be killer) app.

Perhaps that’s understandable. AI is going to completely transform entire sectors, and it’s going to it soon. Few industries are immune.

Where is that transformation going to be most profound? Healthcare, automotive and financial services. That’s according to the PwC’s Global Artificial Intelligence Study: Exploiting the AI Revolution, a new body of research that looks at the real-world impact that artificial intelligence is likely to make.

So what is AI really offering these industries? Where are the big wins going to be won? And what can you do to prepare?

Financial services
We’ve talked about it before, but it bears repeating: Fintech is about to become transformed by AI-tech.

With the automation of both back office and customer-facing functions, fraud detection, and  AI-powered personalised financial planning, everyone looks set to benefit from AI penetration into the financial sector.

And the good news is that a lot of this – particularly financial advice powered by artificial intelligence – is more or less ready to go.

“While human financial advice is costly and time consuming, AI developments such as robo-advice have made it possible to develop customised investment solutions for mass market consumers in ways that would, until recently, only have been available to high net worth clients,” said the report.

“Finances are managed dynamically to match goals and optimise client’s available funds, as asset managers become augmented and, in some cases, replaced by AI. The technology and data is in place, though customer acceptance would still need to increase to realise the full potential.”

Looking at the long term, new smart-insurance models seem likely to emerge, moving from predictive analytics (anticipating what will happen as an insurable loss) to prescriptive, (proactively shaping outcomes such as reduced accident rates or improved consumer satisfaction).

Much has been made of the changes technology is going to make to healthcare systems (and just how overdue those changes are), so just what is the size of the prize when it comes to AI-enhanced medicine?

In the short to medium term that means it’s faster and more accurate diagnoses for patients.

“AI-powered diagnostics use the patient’s unique history as a baseline against which small deviations flag a possible health condition in need of further investigation and treatment,” said the report.

“AI is initially likely to be adopted as an aid, rather than replacement, for human physicians. It will augment physicians’ diagnoses, but in the process also provide valuable insights for the AI to learn continuously and improve. This continuous interaction between human physicians and the AI-powered diagnostics will enhance the accuracy of the systems and, over time, provide enough confidence for humans to delegate the task entirely to the AI system to operate autonomously”

Longer term? Think fully robot doctors.

The challenge for modern medicine is to overcome suspicion around privacy practices and the perception of risk.

Also a challenge is the sheer scale of the task: “The complexity of human biology and the need for further technological development also mean than some of the more advanced applications may take time to reach their potential and gain acceptance from patients, healthcare providers and regulators.”

With climate change front-of-mind, electric car ubiquity still some measure off, and the average Australasian city dweller spending almost an hour and half inside an automobile every day, there’s room for improvement in the transport industry.

Developments like autonomous fleets for ridesharing, semi-autonomous features such as driver assist and engine monitoring and predictive, autonomous maintenance will go some way to solving these issues.

Again, consumer trust represents a barrier – and with basic ethical dilemmas still unsettled – we’re not quite there yet.

“The technology still needs development,” said the report. “Having an autonomous vehicle perform safely under extreme weather conditions might prove more challenging. Even if the technology is in place, it would need to gain consumer trust and regulatory acceptance.”

With the potential to contribute up to $15.7 trillion to the global economy in 2030 it’s easy to get excited about the possibilities. It’s another thing to formulate a rational response.

The best first step, said the report, is simply to begin.

“Tomorrow’s market leaders are likely to be exploring the possibilities and setting their strategies today. The ultimate commercial potential of AI is doing things that have never been done before, rather than simply automating or accelerating existing capabilities. Some of the strategic options that emerge won’t match past experience or gut feelings.

“As a business leader, you may therefore have to take a leap of faith.”

And that leap of faith may very well be a high jump.

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