2017 is the year for AI

This year is believed to be the year for artificial intelligence (more commonly known as AI). These devices will change the way we live and work and businesses will have to start thinking about what these machines can do for them, whether it’s changing their business models or their customer relationships.

But why has 2017 become so important in the development of AI-enabled devices?

Firstly, the shortage of the Amazon echo over the Christmas and New Year period showed that people are interested in these devices and are getting used to the idea of them. Already a source of music, information, shopping and more, these devices are making inroads into daily life. Industry experts are predicting that sales of AI-enabled devices will quadruple his year alone. That means, by December there’ll be a lot of assistants and the sales pace will surely accelerate.

Secondly our exposure to AI personal assistants is getting broader. Alexa, Cortana and Siri are already in our homes, smartphones and PCs; however, our cars, schools, public venues and work places will soon be equipped with AI assistants that allow us to complete tasks faster and more conveniently. Just as we don’t speak to only one person (not every virtual assistant can be an expert in everything), we will have different helpers, with different names and personalities in different places.

Following on from that, virtual assistants will soon start to talk to one another. For example, there will be no need to call for an Uber. Instead we’ll tell Alexa or Cortana where we want to go and when the car arrives the destination will be set, along with our favourite route and other personal preferences.

Lastly, a tipping point is happening in the develop of AI personal assistant technology. Natural language processing (NLP) is at the very heart of artificial intelligence and it’s getting more sophisticated. The implications are huge, queries no longer need to be expressed with complete sentences or keywords. After trillions of interactions, machine learning technologies are creating a new world in which our spoken interactions with computing devices can be totally human, with all their quirks and inconsistencies. This means our ability to communicate informally with devices equipped with virtual assistants will improve dramatically. As our devices get to know us, they will not only anticipate our needs, but also develop something close to personality. Furthermore, our ability to communicate quickly and with nuance will improve. Speaking, rather than typing, will become the primary means by which we interface with all our devices, from smartphones and iPads to our PCs and even directly with televisions, automobiles, appliances, and much more. The use of keyboards and mice will eventually drop significantly if not vanish altogether. Screens will be used primarily to display the results of constant and continual interactions with our assistants.

So, what does this all means for businesses? If they haven’t already, customer-centric companies need to understand how to transfer their interactions to the world of AI-enabled devices. Customer support and online sales are two categories that are currently on the firing line of the virtual assistant revolution. Businesses that fulfil these functions via huge call centres have two options: maintain their expensive infrastructure or invest in the next generation of voice-enabled technologies. With price parity being a fact of life in many industries, the winners will be those that can offer superior customer service in real time and at the lowest possible cost. AI-enabled computing, from virtual assistants to chatbots, is the answer.

If 2015 and 2016 cracked the door on AI-enabled devices, 2017 has kicked it wide open. A new age of computing has begun, forward-thinking enterprises are already addressing the imperatives, and the potential, of the changes brought about by this exciting and fast-evolving technology.

Cortana, Alexa, and Siri are only the first in a long line of assistants who will be applying for work in this new era. They’re smart, focused, and ambitious — and to stay ahead, shrewd companies will want to hire them.

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