As a freshman in high school, Lebron James was featured on Sports Illustrated as “The Chosen One.” Twenty years later, he matched and exceeded the grandiose expectations placed on him. How he managed to stay sane as a teenager, I will never know. But, sometimes, hype doesn’t match reality.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has also experienced a hype cycle promising everything from better product recommendations to life-saving (or world-changing) applications. At times, it feels like the answer to any challenge is “AI.”
And yet, AI has succeeded and failed at the same time. On the one hand, it has already changed how we interact with the world even if we don’t know it. On the other hand, it’s not hard to find executives who feel burned by unfulfilled promises. What happened, and how do we move forward from here?
If It Feels Like Deja Vu, You’re Not Wrong
You will feel much better once you realize that this isn’t AI’s first rodeo with hype. In the early 1970s and 1980s, there were also claims about how AI would change our world. We would soon be living among robots as intelligent as humans and transported by self-driving cars. It’s interesting to note that self-driving cars have always been “just ten years away.”
In recent times, we have seen tangible achievements and recurring disappointments. Of course, we don’t live alongside human-like robots, but we did design machines that could beat humans at games like Chess and Go. In short, we discovered some things that AI is good at, e.g., pattern recognition, and others where it is terrible, e.g., writing music.
Self-driving cars might take 50 years to become mainstream for consumers, but we may see technology play a big role in trains, trucks, and other closed-loop systems. Commercial planes are effectively flown by machines most of the time.
Everything new is old. The same pattern of hype over things that already existed is common in our history. Christianity was built upon Judaism, while Islam was built on both. The core ideas traveled through time and took on new meanings in a new culture. We will likely continue to see a cycle of hype and disappointment in AI.
Why Invisible AI Is Changing Our World
That being said, AI is changing our world. Every time you use Google Maps or Amazon, you encounter “Invisible AI.” When you upload photos to Facebook, and there’s face recognition, that’s AI. Even applying for jobs is being filtered by algorithms. I call this “Invisible AI” because we may not even recognize it, but it is incredibly useful.
Every business will be impacted by Invisible AI but not every business will actually need to invest significant resources hiring data scientists and other roles. Instead, many businesses will simply access AI through software vendors and other partners.
I was fascinated by a recent example from a dentist. They were using AI to help them analyze X-rays to find potential issues in the teeth. The algorithms help cut down the time required for analysis. All the dentist had to do was send over the images of the X-rays to a software program, and it would then spit out an analysis. The dentist doesn’t know how the algorithm works, and he doesn’t need to do. It’s invisible to him but incredibly useful.
What Does It Mean For Your Team?
As a company, you have to decide if you will be fine with Invisible AI or if you need to write your models. There are countless stories of the latter (Adobe was recently featured in The Economist), but the former may require some deep thinking.
Think through the following questions:
- Do you need actual data scientists, or can you buy it off the shelf?
- What will you use AI for?
- Is the payoff worth all the investment and time?
- Does it fit into your overall strategy over the next 12 months?
Progress doesn’t require complexity. Sometimes, you can get big wins through minimal effort.
AI is here to stay. Hype will continue, and we will continue to be a few years away from self-driving cars. In the meantime, focus on how to get results fast and not by a specific methodology.