Reading recent media coverage, one would be forgiven for thinking those working in Artificial Intelligence are racing to create sentient robot overlords, with little regard for whether they may overthrow us and steal our jobs.
Maybe it's good that a few people are keeping an eye on potentially negative consequences of AI. But amidst the science fiction, we should remember that contemporary AI is a massive opportunity for business.
In the next decade, AI's main contribution will be to automate repeatable, complex tasks and help find new insights in data. This may sound less exciting than killer robots, but it is business world-changing.
Some of the earliest, most exciting work is happening in healthcare. IBM's Watson can diagnose cancers, diseases more accurately than many doctors - which has huge implications for people's health, as well as for the economics of overburdened health services.
Further up the chain, AI is analysing years of pharmaceutical research to identify missed patterns and correlations that could lead to new drugs and personalised combination treatment regimes for rare conditions. Combine this with data from your smart watch and you have fully personalised healthcare plans and alerts on your person at all times, which healthcare experts will then use to tailor your care.
AI is transforming businesses which have lots of data at their disposal. F1 teams are analysing data for improvements to give them an edge, councils are developing customer service bots, video games are creating characters by modelling real life behaviours, banks are using AI to spot fraud, and retailers are using AI to price goods and services effectively in the real-time, global marketplace.
AI improves on previous data approaches in that it learns from data to solve problems without being explicitly programmed to do so, and it will continually improve as it ingests more training data. But remember, AI is still just a tool, like software, automation, statistics and business intelligence before it. Behind the hype, it's a collection of maths, models, algorithms and software - which are a long way off what we would consider true sentience.
And as a tool, you need people to wield it correctly and understand where its application will be most effective, illustrating that the human role is still vital and not going to vanish any time soon.
If you're someone charged with deciding the future of your business, you probably want to forget about AI rising up against you, and look at how it can drive your business forward now: What decisions do you need to make? Do you want to identify a new R&D focus? Reduce repairs and maintenance budgets? Better target and engage new customers? Spot inefficiencies or criminality? Eliminate costs of repetitive tasks and free up your scarce internal experts to focus on higher value work?
Chances are an AI can inform those decisions and help address those challenges.
AI has important social implications, and these need to be considered. It will create many more highly skilled jobs, whilst automating many lower skilled jobs. Access to AI will also lower the barriers to entry into professions that previously needed huge teams of people to crunch data. This will spur new start-ups and disruptors and they will pose a threat to established companies relying on cost and scale as a barrier to market entry and competition.
AI will undoubtedly reshape the world of business, making our lives easier, safer and more efficient. There are important questions the world's greatest minds should be focussed on to ensure AI delivers the benefits it promises.
But how to deal with new robot overlords is not one of them.