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Business Transformation in the Age of Artificial Intelligence


When I first heard the term Artificial Intelligence (AI), I imagined a machine that could think like a human. As we stand here today we seem to be as far away from realising that idea as we have ever been. However, there have been some interesting developments in pattern recognition that are now discussed under the heading of AI. 

Pattern and image recognition are being used to predict what may happen next. With pattern and image recognition, a machine can process millions of bits of information and not only evaluate but predict what comes next. For instance, a machine can predict with a degree of probability what you will buy, sell, or do next based on the activity patterns it has collected from you. Also, and more interestingly, using facial recognition, voice recognition and many other indicators, a machine will be able to recognise your emotional state. Machine learning tools are constantly improving with the aim of producing more accurate results. 

AI Applications for Business 

These advances in AI are set to continue the transformation of retail and the experiences people have. When you ring to make a booking you will likely talk to a computer (though you will not be able to tell the difference). Complaints? Talk to the machine! Just bought or sold a property? The machine will predict what you do next, what services you will need, what products you will buy, and it will recommend them to you before you have even thought about it. You can already see this sort of recommendation engine working on the sites of many leading online retailers.

In China things have gone one step further, with the use of facial recognition technology as local businesses are taking advantage of its potential for personalised service delivery.  

IBM have been driving the development of AI through Watson computer system. Originally conceived to take on humans on the popular US television show Jeopardy!, Watson as recently been used in the legal world to classify thousands of court cases. The process for working up precedents for cases before the court can through Watson now be completed in a matter of seconds, as opposed to relying on law clerks and paralegals burning the midnight oil.  

Routine tasks in professions such as law, accounting, health, media, marketing, finance, architecture, education, and science are set to be transformed as the capabilities of AI are brought to bear. This means there will be more efficient deployment of resources to generate higher rates of return. Existing resources can work on higher value tasks, and more is achieved with less such resulting in reduced costs and higher productivity. The balance of these outcomes is yet to be determined. Whilst the number of jobs can be expected to grow, many routine, dull, and repetitive tasks can be expected to be taken over by AI. This will have a particular impact in the modern office and manufacturing sectors. 

Over the coming years and decades, many tasks routinely conducted in office spaces by human beings will be completed instead in the cloud using advanced AI. This will generate significant demand for data centres and ought to see them grow to become an investment class in their own right. We’ve already seen a remarkable 3,348.7% growth in the Asia Pacific data centre market over the past year, according to our Winning in Growth Cities report. 

For retailers though, the human interface is likely to remain a vital component of the sales process. This is because there will still be a demand to better understand what customers think and feel about your products. Your sales staff will need to become better at human engagement whilst the more routine tasks are passed over to the AI system.  

Most aspects of our lives will feel the impact of artificial intelligence. However, AI is, for all its possibilities, still artificial. It is currently limited by the parameters of its programming and will not be replacing humans any time soon. Our senses – taste, touch, smell – and our imaginations, dreams, and ambitions, give us an insurmountable advantage over digital, artificial intelligence. 


The above is written by Tony Crabb, Cushman & Wakefield’s National Director of Research, and originally appeared on Cushman & Wakefield Australia’s Futurology series. 

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