How Artificial Intelligence & Big Data Will Transform The Workplace

Companies are learning a lot from big data, all of which should be giving them fantastic insight into what their customers truly want as well as need. By putting these learnings into the kind of action that customers want to see, companies can vastly improve customer satisfaction and hopefully grow their profits too.

Companies who are utilising big data in this manner are at the top of their game and are hopefully finding that it is helping them stay ahead of their competition.

However, the bad news is that as data growth continues to rise, to ensure you stay competitive, you’re going to have to work a lot harder to ensure you get maximum value from all of the data you’re collecting from your customers.

How can you possibly work any harder you might well ask? How can you ensure you stay at the front of the pack? Two words…

Artificial intelligence (AI).

The problem with all the big data that is now accessible to us is that there is simply too much of it. The truth is, you can employ as many highly intelligent data analysts as you like but there’s simply too much data being created, with IDC estimating that by 2020, they’ll be 44 zettabytes! Data analysts simply can’t keep up, and this was something that was predicted in a report by McKinsey Global Institute several years ago.

Enter stage left AI.

Utilising AI, also known as machine learning, will help companies to better manage the growth in big data and also ensure that the more complex analytical tasks are completed faster. Humans will never be able to compete with the precision and speed that AI offers, which may sound scary at first but being truthful, it also sounds a lot more efficient and a definite solution to the shortage of resources we find ourselves facing.

Revisiting the scary side of AI for a moment, we must admit that it will have a huge impact on the workforce, something which gives many a huge cause for concern, especially when thinking about whether or not their job could be taken from them and given to a machine. Worries such as this are given legs when studies such as that conducted by Oxford University in 2013 suggest that AI could take over nearly half of all the jobs in the US.

However, many believe that it doesn’t matter how clever machines get, we must remember that the human brain invented them. Any jobs that are taken over by machines should benefit the human race in the long run since processes will be sped up and accuracy vastly improved, which could well end up reducing cost to consumers too.

When referring to AI specifically, we are not talking about robots or other forms of advanced technology that are merely acting in the way that they have been programmed to act. AI, on the other hand, refers to a machine which recognises the environment it is in and takes a specific action accordingly. This is what researchers refer to as “deep learning.”

AI involves a machine making up its own mind about what to do when given specific data and then informing us, the humans, about the next step to take. In this way, you can see why AI has some of the greatest minds in the world a tad concerned!

The idea that machines might start thinking for themselves, surpassing the human race and eventually taking over the world is indeed worrying. However, we are not living in a sci-fi movie and this worry can also be offset by those who take the stance that AI is more about “protecting children from sex trafficking, reducing the chemical content in the lettuce we eat, helping us buy shoes online that fit our feet precisely…” – Shivon Zilis, Investor at Bloomberg Beta.

Ms Zilis does indeed put things into perspective as far as AI is concerned. Using her examples above, no one can deny how exciting, fascinating and, let’s face it, helpful, AI is and could be. Even more so when looked at alongside big data! Both AI and big data have huge potential and are powerful in their own right but when linked up, wow! We’re talking world changing!

What can we expect from AI and Big Data in the future?

One of the best examples of big data and AI working together at the moment can be seen in the finance industry, i.e. the stock market. It has got to stage where the mathematical models used to predict market shifts have actually become smarter as a result of all the data that they have synthesized over the years. It may even be the case that, in a few more years, the models will be able to predict market trends as well as human influences and, more importantly, do so accurately!

Just imagine all of the possibilities that the joining of AI and big data could hold for the business world and in your own workplace!

How does the thought of an actual virtual assistant suit you? A machine which can understand concepts, speak multiple languages, ingest and understand textbook after textbook and in doing so be of real help to you, not to mention available 24/7.

With this in mind the company IPSoft have introduced Amelia, a “learning cognitive agent” who can do all of the above; in fact she speaks/ understands 20 languages and can even learn from her mistakes. This machine can absorb complex manuals in seconds and then answer specific questions based on what she finds in her newly absorbed knowledge bank. 

Intelligence like Amelia’s is explained by Chetan Dube, IPSoft’s Chief Executive by the fact she can understand “what is meant, not just what is said”. This enables her to understand what you ultimately mean even if the same question is asked many different ways. If she doesn’t understand, she gets help from humans, learns and alters her answer or behaviour for next time.

With such an ability to interpret context, problem solve and learn, IPSoft can be forgiven for believing that Amelia really is going places…perhaps not quite replicating Samantha in the film ‘Her’ but close!

Perhaps one day machines might even move to the top of the chain, becoming the boss!

This is certainly something seen as possible by many companies across the globe, with some even appointing an algorithm on to its board of directors! One such company is Hong Kong based, Deep Knowledge Ventures (DKV).

The company puts its trust in its algorithm to analyse the huge amount of big data it’s provided with and then gives the algorithm a say in the decision making process, such as companies the firm ultimately goes on to invest in.

IBM is also continuing to develop its very own supercomputer Watson, so that it too will be able to play a part in the boardroom. IBM claims that the updated Watson will be able to take note of everything that is said in a meeting, quickly produce answers to questions through doing its own speedy online research, as well as make its own suggestions based on its ability to analyse big data.

Watson might even be able to scrutinise each contribution made by IBM’s board members and detail how accurate or useful their contributions are, which will no doubt cause worry for some! The greatest strength of computers in making such decisions and taking part in boardroom discussions is that they are not clouded by emotion, as humans are.

A machine’s decision will be based on fact and evidence only, which means their decisions are likely to make more business sense than a decision made by a human who might well have been swayed by any number of irrational factors. 

Allowing greater freedom when it comes to the use of machines in the workplace will result in people having a lot more time to dedicate to the more creative tasks. Something that Tom Austin, Gartner fully agrees with: “Robots can free workers for higher-priority tasks and those tasks that require the greater creativity and adaptability people provide in non-routine situations.”

Many worry that computers will completely take over, leaving little room for humans in the workplace, however, James Quincey, Coca-Cola’s Europe Group President warns against relying too much on machines, stating that it’s “easier to get lost in all the data – it can help us create a better yesterday rather than a better tomorrow” and that we still need to “rely on our gut instinct” in order to “develop a richer, more instinctive understanding of the consumer.”

The future of big data and AI in the workplace


There is no doubt that big data analytics and AI have a big part to play in the workplace not just in the future but in the present too. They can help employers to better assess their employees’ performance, as well as ensure the best candidates are being put forward for employment in the first place. The combining of the two will also benefit employees, giving them more time to create and perform to the best of their abilities, without becoming tied into boring, time-consuming chores.

There is a lot to be said for automation in the workplace, not least because it is a lot more time efficient but also because it is more affordable in the long run. But for all the advantages that machines have, such as making evidence based decisions with no emotional attachment, this is also what will prevent them from ever completely taking over.

Many business decisions require human emotion, since you need to be able to understand the emotional side of a consumer or client to best serve their needs. Humans rely on their intuition and lateral thinking a lot of the time and, ultimately, this is where machines will always far behind.

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