Smart machines tend to scare us.

No small wonder. Our governments have gazed into the crystal ball of the economy and seen that artificial intelligence (AI) will wipe out entire categories of jobs in the next 20 years.

Meanwhile, science fiction films have conditioned us to believe that soulless robots will not only replace us in our jobs, but also rapidly replace us altogether.

Realistically, though, AI won’t be the final wrecking ball for human civilization. Nor will smart machines necessarily become our direct competitors. Rather, they will often take on the role of collaborators — in the same way Siri can conveniently answer a query on the spot or the voice of our GPS can guide us through unfamiliar territory.

But even those everyday examples of virtual assistants cannot not fully convey what cognitive intelligence (CI), the most humanlike sect of AI, will do for us in the future — especially in the workplace.

Whereas Siri is a generalist whose function is to respond to a broad range of requests, other forms of CI can be tailored to specific tasks, domains or work environments.

This changes everything.

First, productivity will increase as CI delivers the right information at the right time in the right format — making businesses more competitive by accomplishing work faster, more efficiently and at lower cost. (So far, digital personal assistants have helped create lots of busy work — endless scheduling, organizing and email exchanges — but have done little to boost workplace productivity. The next generation of such technology will help us focus on the task at hand.)

Second, creativity will kick up a few notches. Freed from the drudgery of performing the kinds of repetitive tasks that smart software will now handle, employees will focus on those areas of intelligence where the human mind remains unrivalled: imagination and innovation. But does this mean the advent of CI will turn workplaces into ghost towns? Not quite. As has been the case with every other technological revolution, millions of jobs will be created in new disciplines, from robot monitors to content curators.

Third, due to its sheer capacity to digest information, CI will offer perspectives and predictive abilities that can be turned into valuable business insights. The applications of CI are already being felt in the human resources departments of some organizations. Sophisticated software is being used to match jobs with the best applicant, predict workplace behaviours or potential resignations, or even flag latent health and safety risks.

The bottom line is that the age of machine-augmented job performance will confer enormous advantages on those who embrace it. By some estimates, companies that take advantage of AI-derived insights will, by 2020, be siphoning off $1.2 trillion in business per year from those that don’t.

Yet industry need not navigate these treacherous rapids alone. IBM is helping Canadian organizations adapt to these new realities, while IBM Research Labs around the globe envision and develop next-generation systems that work in tandem with humans.

For more information, please download this recent webinar on cognitive intelligence.

 



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