What businesses should know about AI (Artificial Intelligence)

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Is your business using artificial intelligence (AI)? It should be. AI is increasingly becoming a competitive advantage for commercial companies across all sectors, including construction, manufacturing, health care, education and cyber security.

Even if you’re not well-versed in AI’s potential, you’re probably already using AI technology, according to Bryant Vernon, Chief Data Science & Operations Officer at Aviva Canada.

“AI is ubiquitous. It influences how we live our lives, do our work and conduct business. We interact with AI thousands of times a day, by opening our smartphones with facial recognition and other biosensors, searching for information online, even deciding which job applications are looked at and moved forward. A lot of our daily actions are powered by AI,” he said.

The evolution of artificial intelligence and machine learning

In a presentation to the RIMS Canada conference, Vernon traced the genesis of AI technology from its early beginnings in the 1950s through to its sophisticated system capabilities today that have resulted in digital transformation.

“AI is now able to accomplish what used to be the domain of humans. It’s recognizing handwriting and speech, it can discern images, make sense of something that’s written, produce text, images and video, and even solve complex problems,” he said.

Most significantly, the rate at which AI technology models are gaining these powerful capabilities is increasing exponentially. “We’ve gone from 30 years to innovate in the area of speech recognition to less than 2 years to develop something completely new: language comprehension and composition. We’re innovating so quickly that we’re experiencing things we never expected to see, including AI being used to create new AI solutions,” said Vernon.

And people are responding to the transformation of artificial intelligence and machine learning. ChatGPT — the AI chatbot that uses large language model (LLM) processing to deliver information and create human-like conversational dialogue — is a good example of our willingness to adopt new technology. Since its launch in November 2022, ChatGPT now has 100 million weekly active users1. Developers from 92% of Fortune 500 companies currently use the platform2. ChatGPT technology continues to evolve and new and old users engage with it regularly.

Integrating artificial intelligence (AI) into your business

Companies around the world are pouring money into innovating with AI technology. “We expect global spending on AI to exceed $301 billion by 2026 and there are lots of capabilities that can be built with these investments,” said Vernon.

“Companies are looking at use cases on how to leverage AI in everything from software development to sales to the supply chain, HR and beyond. Many Companies are especially interested in employee productivity applications where benefits outweigh the risks associated with putting AI technology in front of customers. Over time, AI is going to proliferate throughout organizations and society as a whole.”

Considerations when integrating AI technology

However, there are IT, security, and legal considerations to take into account before you start to deploy AI models to the company. It’s important to note that most companies often encounter technical issues and failures at the outset of their AI journey.

Vernon says, “When you’re blazing a pathway on a new frontier, you should expect headwinds and be prepared to lean into them. Any company that’s engaging in AI should expect that it’s not going to be easy. All the necessary tools may not be in place and you may need to upgrade your data analytics infrastructure.”

Ensuring successful AI integration into your business

He notes that new technology, such as AI, requires new talent. “You definitely need the right people, including AI and machine learning engineers, not just data scientists. The CEO and business leaders must support AI investment and be comfortable with the business implications of an AI-forward business. AI can and likely will profoundly reshape the way you operate.”

He described a stumbling block within Aviva, when one of the first AI technology models deployed failed because teams didn’t trust the intent behind it and therefore didn’t adopt the system. “They thought they were going to lose their jobs. As Chief Data Science & Operations Officer, I realized the importance of re-positioning the model’s value proposition in terms of how it would benefit our team. Once the team understood how it would help them manage their work and make faster, more accurate decisions, we achieved nearly 100% adoption of the tool.”

Vernon cautions that operational alignment may not be easy for many businesses. “AI requires iterative organizational learning. At the outset, the organization will likely not appreciate the full universe of use cases that AI can address – particularly business partners. By working with business partners who are keen to collaborate, not only do you increase your chances of success, but you also accelerate that organizational learning. With more exposure and practice, you develop deeper and more nuanced AI intuition. Over time, this intuition permeates the business and has a compounding effect on your ability to execute at pace.”

He says that executing AI technology at pace is the key to thriving in a future that’s progressively changing more rapidly. “At Aviva, we’re seeing LLM and other models’ capabilities improving far faster, release-to-release, than we would have thought possible, some making massive gains over a period of mere months. We’re used to thinking linearly – but this field is advancing at an exponential rate. Taking a wait and see approach used to be a safe bet, but with the speed at which AI is evolving, laggards will find the penalty for procrastination is climbing steeply. In fact, I think laggards will see that the trailblazers who started their AI journeys earlier and learned their lessons sooner have built an overwhelming, almost insurmountable competitive advantage.”

Vernon says the world of risk management has a lot to gain with generative AI tools, such as ChatGPT. He recommends viewing Stone & Chalk Advisory’s webinar on the subject, which offers use cases of how AI can be applied. 

AI integration can provide numerous benefits for companies across all industries, from efficiency improvements to competitive advantages, and it is becoming increasingly essential in today's business landscape. Learning about AI and exploring its applications is crucial for businesses looking to thrive in a data- and technology-driven world and can help businesses understand the ever-changing digital landscape.

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