June 15, 2017

Is AI Ready for Service Providers?

It's understandable to approach AI with skepticism while admiring its promise.

There are many unanswered questions surrounding artificial intelligence (AI)—one of which is whether it is ready for the rigors and requirements of a service provider's business. As it stands today, it's apparent that AI has a long way to go before it fully matures and can play a critical role for service providers.

Apart from a few expensive demonstrations where computers have beat humans at poker or produced beautiful artwork, what is currently referred to as AI is often little more than a very fast database lookup. In fact, the excitement around AI has fizzled out in recent cases where its rapid introduction has created trouble for some digital giants.

For example, some major companies have pulled their AI-driven advertisements after seeing their ads land on inappropriate webpages. A tech giant even made news when it shut down its AI technology because some users decided to teach its chatbot racial profanities. Meanwhile, in driverless car tests, humans are still in the driver's seat. Although malgorithms—algorithms gone wrong—are nothing new, these examples show how AI needs more time to mature and for developers and engineers to better understand and work with its peculiarities.

What Roles Can AI Play for Service Providers?

As service providers get a stronger grasp of AI's vulnerabilities, it's worth asking whether AI can be used to their benefit in the near term. Most often, AI has been characterized as a customer service technology. For example, chatbots have helped some companies significantly reduce headcount. In industries like banking, where Goldman Sachs reportedly has just two human exchange traders left, AI-based systems may soon be the primary method of interacting with customers.

Companies like Facebook seem to be convinced of AI technology and often experiment with customers in ways service providers typically do not; that will help the technology and its uses to develop. Similarly, because many service providers want to deliver personalized customer journeys at scale, AI may have an important near-term role to play. In the not-too-distant future, service providers will likely utilize AI for dynamic network planning as well as traffic and behavior analysis.

Is Skepticism of AI Justified?

Today, it's understandable for service providers to approach AI with some skepticism before assuming it will operate as promised. Many see AI as a groundbreaking technology that's already an integral part of digital transformation, but it's clear that in many cases, AI is still very new, unproven and immature. It will likely require a period of tactical application and organizational learning for service providers to realize a strategic purpose for AI down the line.

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