The title of this article comes from one of many memorable (and tweetable) lines I heard from one of the speakers at IBM’s THINK 2019 conference in San Francisco. This is one of the major conferences focused on AI, data, and technology that drives business today. I attended sessions that had universal business lessons for the forward-thinking company. Here is a summary of some takeaways.
Data is a Competitive Advantage
Ginni Rometty, IBM’s CEO, came out strong in her “Chairman’s Presentation” with another provocative statement: “Data is the basis for the competitive advantage.” In other words, data helps you know your customers, manage processes, get a handle on inventory, and much more. But data means nothing if you can’t use it. That’s where AI comes in. AI makes data come to life. And, when you use it properly, you can streamline your operation and offer your customers and employees a better experience. That’s a competitive advantage.
It’s Still About People
Rometty’s closing comments during her speech emphasized human beings, not AI. Two years ago, she remarked that if you flip the letters AI, they become IA, which she said stands for Intelligent Assistant. IA is about supporting people and making them smarter, not replacing people. Last year she suggested another meaning for the letters AI; Augmented Intelligence. She emphasized that AI should support people. Staying consistent, she wrapped up by saying, “While we talk about tech, it’s people who change the world.”
AI and IOT Can Dramatically Improve Processes
One of my favorite sessions at the conference was on five inventions that will change the world in the next five years. This year’s focus was on food. As the population grows, food becomes a more pressing issue. Actually, it’s the lack of food and the inefficiency in producing and distributing it that is important. One-third of all food produced goes to waste. Most of that occurs before we, as consumers, ever buy the food. Bad farming, bad weather, spoilage during shipping, and more contribute to the problem. One example claimed that 150 billion oranges are wasted each year and it takes 7.5 trillion liters of water to harvest them. That’s a lot of waste. Imagine sensors being placed throughout the process—in the ground, on the plants, the farming equipment, the trucks, etc. These sensors communicate with a device, such as a computer or a smartphone, to determine the optimal time to plant, water, pick, deliver, etc. From seed to harvest to shelf to table to compost, AI interprets the data and helps manage the process, creating major efficiencies that will have a massive impact on waste and spoilage. That’s the power of integrating blockchain, IOT, data, and AI. Using similar technology, opportunities in every industry are almost limitless.
AI Can Keep You Healthy and Help You Live Longer
Bernard Tyson is the Chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente, a healthcare organization with 220,000 employees that include more than 60,000 nurses and 20,000 doctors. He talked about the consumerization of healthcare and the concepts of preventative care versus reactive care. Healthcare shouldn’t be “sick-care.” Health is about staying healthy. While genetics can cause sickness, consider that 40% of health problems come from bad behaviors; bad diet, lack of fitness, etc. 10% is tied to your zip code—the environment in which you live. Technology can help predict problems long before they take place. Your data is compared to millions of other patients’ data (anonymously, of course). AI jumps in to predict and direct the best course of action, ideally preventing sickness before it happens.
AI Can Help Make the World a Better Place
Finally, the last speaker I experienced was Roger McNamee, who talked about his book, Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe. McNamee claims he is not an author, but an activist. He believes that some companies have trust issues. He also believes that every problem, especially a trust problem, is a business opportunity for another company. The company that builds trust, has transparency, and loves its customers has a great opportunity – compared to those that have lost our trust. Furthermore, we need social media to be safe, secure, and trustworthy. No data breaches. No misuse of information that a company obtains from us, with or without our knowledge or consent. McNamee said that AI can help make the world—at least a world with social media in it—a better place. It can be the technology that protects us. “AI should be the technology penicillin of the 21st century.”
What can we take away from all of this? AI clearly has many uses and can potentially skyrocket companies to the next level. But it’s not the ultimate solution to any and every problem that will arise. AI can and should be incorporated where possible, but it should not replace human beings. Instead, human beings should aim to work alongside AI with the joint goal being to create a better experience and journey for employees and customers alike.