Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are buzzwords that have entered the vernacular at many enterprises, but few have managed to realize the full benefits of the technologies. But 2018 may be the year that companies begin more strategic implementations and start realizing some of AI's benefits.
"The percolation of AI and machine learning technologies into businesses still seems to be in its early stages, ranging over awareness that they need to collect data, to awareness that they already have a lot of data but are not making productive use of it, to rudimentary analyses of these data," said Pradeep Ravikumar, Associate Professor, Machine Learning Department, School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University.
AI will continue to be a fast-moving field in the coming year, and it's critical for companies to have close contact and collaborations with those in the AI research community to stay on the cutting edge, Ravikumar said.
SEE: IT leader's guide to the future of artificial intelligence (Tech Pro Research)
"From autonomous drones to AI-powered medical diagnostics, 2018 will see the needs of AI expand beyond research as companies bring these solutions to market," said Julie Choi, head of marketing in the Artificial Intelligence Products Group at Intel. AI hardware will also need to adapt to new form factors, including low-power chips to support small smart home devices or drones, and more purpose-built hardware to speed the training process in data centers, Choi said.
Here are 10 predictions for how AI will grow and the challenges it will face in the enterprise this year.
1. More AI professionals will be hired
In efforts to realize the benefits of AI, companies will hire a variety of professionals to contribute, according to Alex Jaimes, head of R&D at DigitalOcean. Larger organizations may look to add a Chief AI Officer or other senior-level position who will guide how AI and machine learning can be integrated into the company's existing products and strategy. Others may look at hire experts and practitioners in math, algorithms, and AI techniques to provide input.
Additionally, many companies will begin to move AI and data science-related officers in or close to the C-suite, Ravikumar said.
2. AI will be used in cybersecurity...
In 2018, cybersecurity professionals should watch for new AI prevention technologies that will offer more protections against sophisticated hackers, according to Salvatore J. Stolfo, professor of AI at Columbia University and CTO for Allure Security. Data deception technology products are automated, and can detect, analyze, and defend against advanced attacks by trying to deceive the attackers, detect them, and defeat them proactively.
"Combining human intelligence with technology that is inherently capable of continuously adapting and becoming smarter provides a competitive edge to defenders that's primarily been absent from most cybersecurity technologies to date," said Eyal Benishti, founder and CEO of Ironscales. "As AI and machine learning begin to work in tandem with CISOs and security teams, organization's can finally make modest risk reductions and more effectively protect the integrity, confidentiality and availability of their most important digital and physical assets."
SEE: Research: Companies lack skills to implement and support AI and machine learning (Tech Pro Research)
3. ...and also in cyberattacks
This will likely be the year that organizations begin to see AI in malware as a cybersecurity threat, as it will have the ability to make decisions that benefit attackers, according to Matt Corney, CTO of Nuspire Networks.
We can also expect to see a targeted attack not only on an AI-powered device, but on an actual AI algorithm, said Franklyn Jones, vice president of security marketing at Juniper Networks. "Whether that is in the form of feeding misinformation to a bot, inputting malicious code to an AI-focused cloud service or altering the algorithm on one of our now-commonplace intelligent personal assistants, we expect to see some form of AI corruption in 2018," Jones said.
4. AI will bolster marketing and sales teams
In the enterprise, AI will offer the largest impact when it comes to customer-facing roles and processes such as sales and marketing, according to Sayer Martin, COO and co-CTO at Orchestrate. "AI has the ability to remove repetitive tasks that are repeated daily and improve employee focus where it adds more value and enhances the quality of engagements, such in interactions with customers, follow up support cases and improved customer satisfaction," Martin said.
These tools also allow marketing and sales professionals to better personalize messages to customers, such as by tracking behavior and learning the optimal windows for engagement, according to Michelle Huff, CMO of Act-On Software.
But some argue that AI's abilities in this realm are overblown.
"AI will be useful only in direct response marketing and sales promotions over mediums ranging from e-mail to Google AdWords to mobile. Every new way to deliver 'the right ad to the right person at the right time' — which is what AI will do — is just a new type of annoying direct response campaigns," said Samuel Scott, a marketing keynote speaker and columnist for The Drum. "All other types of marketing such as brand advertising and public relations and personal selling rely on the ingenuity and creativity of flesh-and-blood human beings. AI will never replace them. AI cannot build brands."
5. AI will be democratized
With new AI platforms from Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and others, "2018 will be the year of AI democratization," said Ben Gaddis, president of T3. "Developers finally have tools that they can leverage, at scale, for pennies on the dollar compared to 2016-2017."
6. AI will not yet fully transform the enterprise...
While AI in the consumer market is flourishing, that for the enterprise remains lacking, according to Matthew Zeiler, CEO of Clarifai. "While chatbots and voice / AI technology like Siri and Alexa have influenced consumers' daily lives, the tech has yet to reach its full potential for business," Zeiler said. However, in 2018, we will begin to see industries implement AI in ways that haven't been explored before, such as insurance companies building personalized policies with the technology, and retail implementing it to moderate content in online marketplaces.
While there are certain direct applications for AI in the enterprise, it will be a while before it is commonplace, said Christian Beedgen, CTO of Sumo Logic. "Despite all of the buzz around digital transformation, there's a lot of catch-up to be done before many companies can even consider looking at advanced developments such as AI," Beedgen added.
7. ...but chatbots will become the norm
More customer facing companies in banking, media, and retail will add chatbots to their offerings in 2018 to create more interactive experiences, said Luc Burgelman, CEO of NGDATA. "Leveraging AI to continuously learn from omni-channel data and power customer interactions will be critical for companies in 2018," Burgelman added.
AI-powered voice assistants also represent an opportunity for helpdesk workers, said Mark Brewer, global industry director of service management for IFS. "This can both make businesses more effective and lighten the load for a stretched workforce," Brewer said.
8. AI will meet UX
This year, AI will help drive application efficiency and adoption by optimizing the user experience, according to John Carione, strategy and product marketing leader at Quick Base.
"For low- and no-code applications, this means using AI to help app development tools understand usage patterns in order to automatically adapt to their specific role," Carione said. "This creates a more fluid experience for the end-user and helps automatically tailor the right set of functionality for the right role, ultimately improving productivity and reducing security or compliance risks."
9. AI will remove corporate biases
AI can help organizations find and act on information without interference from their emotions or external prejudices—while still exercising human judgement when needed, according to Dell EMC global CTO John Roese.
"In the short-term, we'll see AI applied to hiring and promotion procedures to screen for conscious and unconscious bias," Roese said. "By using emerging technologies to these ends, 'bias check' could one day become a routine sanitizer, like 'spell check'—but with society-wide benefits."
10. Human jobs will remain safe
AI will augment jobs rather than replace them, according to Deep Varma, vice president of engineering at Trulia. "As companies' AI capabilities get stronger and grow larger, we'll see AI augment existing software and applications and actually enable humans to be more productive, effective and accurate," Varma said.
Indeed, AI is poised to create 2.3 million jobs by 2020, while eliminating only 1.8 million jobs, according to Gartner.
- Special report: IT Jobs in 2020: A leader's guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
- Will robots ever really become part of our daily lives? (ZDNet)
- Amazon AI: The smart person's guide (TechRepublic)
- Why robots and AI won't replace most jobs any time soon (TechRepublic)
- When robots eliminate jobs, humans will find better things to do (ZDNet)
- The 10 companies that pay AI engineers the most (TechRepublic)
Alison DeNisco Rayome has nothing to disclose. She does not hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.