Artificial intelligence is roaring from the labs into the business mainstream at a dizzying pace. As that happens, and as businesspeople grapple with the implications of beginning to work with technology that can "think," it's important to step back and get some context on how that will change what businesses do with technology, and how they do it.
A recent article on AI by presidential advisor Henry Kissinger offers some intriguing insights for business leaders on how they should regard AI and potential and its limitations. And it's helpful to view these perspectives on AI when compared to a similar field: BI, or business intelligence. But first, here's an excerpt from Kissinger's article:
“Ultimately the term artificial intelligence may be a misnomer. To be sure, these machines can solve complex, seemingly abstract problems that had previously yielded only to human cognition. But what they do uniquely is not thinking as heretofore conceived and experienced. Rather, it is unprecedented memorization and computation.
"Because of its inherent superiority in these fields, AI is likely to win any game assigned to it. But for our purposes as humans, the games are not only about winning; they are about thinking. By treating a mathematical process as if it were a thought process, and either trying to mimic that process ourselves or merely accepting the results, we are in danger of losing the capacity that has been the essence of human cognition.”
That's a brain-stretching mouthful to be sure. And why, you might be asking, are we even discussing it in this space? Well, it's easy to allow our thinking about business intelligence to drift into the infinitely more complex world of AI. Years ago, we had to adjust our thinking to accommodate the differences between disaster recovery and business continuity, two very different disciplines that were easy to conflate. Much the same holds true today if we look at AI and BI through the same lens.
Of course, they both provide unprecedented means of looking at issues and discerning patterns that could easily elude even the most astute analysts and observers. The both also significantly improve the functioning of organizations and institutions and the functionality of what those organizations and institutions provide to their ultimate consumers. But what they're not is even remotely the same.
AI was conceived as a means of creating intelligence in machines that is similar to what we find in humans, while BI was developed to help analyze business performance through data-driven, performance-focused analyses. BI predicts the future by analyzing what came before. It is a relentless grinder of granular information that looks at what is and what likely will result, while AI is free to engage in all sorts of limitless “what might eventually be” projections. AI is daVinci, BI is Henry Ford.
That said, the best of BI provides actionable information that can be used to arrive at efficient and effective business decisions at all levels of an organization. It combines business analysis tools that include ad-hoc analytics, enterprise reporting and online analytical processing. It doesn't play chess or Go as well as AI, but it does a wonderful job at analyzing spreadsheet information, providing digital dashboards and monitoring business activities end-to-end. BI's natural “skills” are data mining in all forms and its habitat is data warehouses.
Do AI and BI complement each other? Of course. In many ways, they can be a perfect match in that the best of BI is fully effective when implemented through AI-driven alerts, that can range from the simplest of threshold warnings all the way through to neural-network advisories. Combined, they're revolutionizing the business landscape, by allowing employees at any level of their organizations to move beyond simply slogging through performance data so that their expertise can be devoted to discerning trends. Most importantly, it allows organizations to be proactive and not merely belatedly reactive to market shifts and their own performance inefficiencies.
We're not dealing with time and reporting here. We're dealing with maximizing the value of time and pushing business reporting to its optimal value. If it were easy, anybody could do it. But easy, it's not.
We're here to help—so feel free to give us a call to talk through the what-ifs of AI and the what-ifs of BI.