Artificial intelligence is not all science fiction

We need to separate the hype from the reality when it comes to AI and machine learning

We all get that artificial intelligence and machine learning is cool. It’s sexy. And headlines about robots taking over the world grab attention and make people sit up and take notice.

But there is a huge amount of hype in the media around the whole area of AI, machine learning and deep learning. And this hype is causing smaller businesses to believe that AI has no place in its workplace; that it is out of their reach. But that couldn’t be further than the truth.

As well as the robots, we are always hearing about the amazing challenges that are being solved in the medical and IT world thanks to AI and machine learning.

It is exciting; it's a brave new world. And people are hungry to hear more – you only have to study Google search trends to see the upsurge in interest in these sectors over the past few years.


But while headlines focus on this science-fiction side of AI – which we see in films and on TV programmes – this is not the reality for a lot of businesses. And because of this hype, many smaller companies – who are not operating in the dizzy science-fiction side of things – might not realise that AI or machine learning can work to improve their businesses, no matter what sector they are in.

Non-sexy tasks

The biggest impact of AI or machine learning in the business world is on automating non-sexy or mundane tasks; tasks that are repeatedly performed in organisations costing them a lot in time, money and human resources.

Using AI for these tasks can have a major impact on businesses – making huge cost savings and efficiencies. They are extremely valuable but they are not the kind of science fiction AI that you read in headlines, so many companies are not aware that AI and machine learning can help them progress and grow their businesses.

Some of these tasks include automation in production lines, automated credit scoring and customer service bots that can answer first-line queries; if it goes beyond a certain level of complexity, the customer query can be routed to a human agent.

This might not exactly sound cutting edge but these are the real areas where AI is being applied and creating huge benefits for companies.

If you are a company wondering how AI and machine learning can help your businesses, it can be difficult to know where to start. But there often many tasks where it is easy to apply AI through current tools and practices (the low-hanging fruit), and applying technologies in these areas tends to give you a lot of bang for your buck.

Repetitive tasks

Look at the automation of simple and repetitive tasks within your business. Allow AI to assist humans by doing the repetitive and niche tasks and allow humans to do the parts only they can do – such as the creative tasks and ones that need ethical decision-making.

It’s not all about robots taking over our jobs; it’s about how they can assist us by using AI to augment human workflows rather than trying to replace them.

If you are a business owner thinking of introducing AI into your workplace, here are three top tips to consider:

- Start small. Introduce AI slowly into your organisation. Start with small PoCs (proof of concept) and demonstrator projects. Take small steps before you roll out very ambitious plans. Manage expectations and build trust within your organisation before taking on a large-scale project.

- Understand limitations. Data is often very undervalued. Companies have a lot of data that has value for their business but they are not using it very well. But data can also be overvalued. Not all can be used in the ways some companies believe it might be used for. Understanding the limitations of your data and what AI can do for you is important.

- Beware of the hype. Many products on the market are using AI purely for marketing purposes so don’t be blinded by that. Whether a solution is enabled through AI or not is not really important so long as it does what it promises to do and that what it does is what you need it to do.

But the most important tip for smaller businesses is to act now. It is important to engage with AI and machine learning now in order to be at a competitive advantage. Start by fostering a data and AI culture within your organisation so you can stay one step ahead of the rest.

Don’t believe the hype but do believe that AI has a place in your business and that it will help you become a leader in your field.

Dr Oisín Boydell is a principal data scientist at CeADAR, Ireland's national centre for applied data analytics and machine intelligence.