I have a slide I use a lot at the moment in presentations and it looks like this: It offers a simple – but hopefully not simplistic – way of looking at the opportunity AI and machine learning presents us in the overall framework of automation.
When I present, the three elements in the slide build like this:
- On the left-hand side you have automating the mundane; the automation of highly repetitive tasks, such as invoice processing, to which Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is being applied. This is anything done by someone using a keyboard, doing repetitive tasks over and over again such as invoice processing. One of the notable aspects of the market is the massive valuations these companies (Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism & UIPath being the top three) have received, especially given some of them are not startups – the youngest of those three is 14 years old. And there’s not a lot of actual AI in there, beyond document understanding using NLP and other technologies but more is coming. But they scratch a current itch and are benefitting from it.
- On the right-hand side, you have automating the complex, the most notable example of which is autonomous vehicles, such as Alphabet’s Waymo and eventually, Tesla. When – or if – we get to level 5 autonomy it will be revolutionary and a huge market. But right now it’s a very specialised thing and it may not happen and thus should not be occupying the minds of those seeking to use AI and machine learning to automate processes in their businesses.
- The middle is where I feel the major opportunity lies; augmenting humans to do everything else. Note the use of ‘augmenting,’ versus ‘automating’ because I believe that in most cases that is what will happen – indeed is already happening. Some tasks will be automated for sure, but the main opportunity is helping people do their jobs more efficiently and effectively. So whether they’re in manufacturing, medicine, agriculture, finance, public sector, or any other industry, the major opportunity in terms of return on investment in AI is in the augmentation of humans, rather than the mass replacement of humans.
So that’s the simple version of how I see the opportunity for AI and machine learning. I’d love to know how you see it.