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August 17, 2017
The real dystopia is a future without AI
By: Omar Abbosh

When something new makes life easier or better, we welcome it. History is filled with innovations that have transformed how we live and work and left us wondering how we ever got by without them.

Yet with artificial intelligence (AI), many seem to be quite conflicted. It is heralded as part of the fourth industrial revolution, yet a lot of people — if they are honest — fear it. Why? There’s been quite a bit of noise about how an AI-powered future is like a dystopian collection of nightmares where the machines decide that the humans need to be “overthrown.” But will machines really rise up and try to enslave us? Or will they serve us?

AI is already saving people from jobs that are mundane, routine and even hazardous. It is freeing our talented minds to focus on tackling big issues. It’s allowing our brains to go to work on projects that are more cognitively challenging and that require empathy, human judgement or interaction.

Turbocharging the economy

Researching the impact of artificial intelligence on 12 developed economies spanning 16 industries, Accenture and Frontier Economics found that AI can increase profitability by an average of 38 percent. This could double annual economic growth rates in the countries we analyzed by 2035, driving an economic boost of U.S. $14 trillion in additional gross value added (a close approximation of gross domestic product).

I’d go so far as to say the impact will be life or death for some industries.

The biggest winners, according to our research, will be information/communication, manufacturing and financial services industries that are expected to reach annual growth rates of 4.8 percent, 4.4 percent and 4.3 percent respectively by 2035. In financial terms, this could mean an extra $8 trillion by 2035 for these three sectors alone (more on our AI research is here).

Embracing AI’s disruption to lead in the “new”

At Accenture, we talk a lot about how organizations can lead in the new. They must identify and recognize disruptive forces, understand the implications, innovate and pivot toward the new that is emerging around them. It’s not easy.

With AI — as with any new disruptive force — it’s critical that companies pivot wisely. If they move too quickly from their core business to the new, they can overreach financially, possibly overinvesting in a market that's not ready. Similarly, companies that hesitate too long, risk obsolescence and bankruptcy.

Where should you start?

My advice: Think beyond the flurry of fear-based, AI takeover stories. While innovators like to put their brains on “what’s possible,” it’s also important that we think about what might not be possible in a world without AI.  AI applied in areas such as medicine, health care, transportation (i.e., autonomous vehicles) and nutrition promises massive improvements in the standard of living for billions of people — that’s an opportunity for the advancement of humanity.

AI’s abilities — including computer vision, natural language processing, machine learning and deep learning — are already solving a range of business issues and societal problems. At call centers, chatbots are handling tedious, repetitive tasks like password resets, thus freeing up agents’ time for more complicated issues. Customers get their issues solved faster, which makes them happy — and happy customers translate to “stickier” customers and more revenue.

This kind of “thinking differently” is how we innovate in the new.

Keep focused on your customers and the data you need to do a better job for them.  And start building the skills to prepare the ground for your own wise pivot to AI. How you embrace AI will likely mean the difference between being a disruptor and the company that is disrupted.

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