In a world of bots, AI and big data – how can employees and businesses survive?

With the Fourth Industrial Revolution hailed as bringing about a digital boom on the global economy, many may think: “Are we not already well into the digital economy era?”.

It is true that there are now countless apps and computing technologies that allow people to conveniently hail a taxi, book a hotel, or clean floors with a robot. Smart machines can also already drive cars, diagnose patients, and manage finances more effectively than humans. But in a new analysis – What to do when Machines do Everything – we found the real boom is only just beginning.

In the years to come, AI will seep even further into how financial health is safeguarded, how families are insured, how people can heal and govern themselves, for example. Systems of intelligence, which combine hardware, AI software, data, and human input to create value, will help improve countless customer experiences, business processes, products and organisations.

Jobs and businesses will undoubtedly be impacted. One of the most common concerns is that the bots will take over everything. While it is true machines will replace some occupations and make some current skills irrelevant and robots can do more of the everyday, mundane tasks, people will also be become even more vital to value creation. For example, the future workforce will require more people to fill jobs currently in short supply: data scientists, designers, technologists, and strategists, as well as create jobs that do not even exist yet.

Materials, machines and models: The formula to ‘win’ the Fourth Industrial Revolution

While the future of an automated workforce can be frightening, the artificial intelligence (AI) revolution will create a huge wave of opportunity for businesses and individuals who are prepared. Typically, every previous revolution has followed such a pattern: innovation bubble, stall, and then boom. The Fourth Industrial Revolution will be no different. Early digital economy winners have aligned the Three Ms – materials, machines and models – to create value.

Firstly, sensors will be required on nearly every “thing” – IoT devices, RFID sensors, accelerometers, motion sensors, etc. – to create massive amounts of data that is the new raw material of the digital economy. Secondly, systems of intelligence (machines) will be required to “process” this new raw material data to improve business productivity and customer. Finally, new commercial models will emerge that monetise services and solutions based on these systems of intelligence.

However, without the right business model to support data-fuelled machines, companies will struggle to be successful. Business leaders will need to decide how to instrument everything, how to harvest all the resulting data, how to ask the right questions of the data, and to “teach” the AI systems what to look for, what is meaningful, and what is immaterial.

Five essential plays for winning with AI

Each of the Three Ms in today’s business success formula must be activated to move AHEAD. There are five distinct approaches for not only winning with AI but surviving and thriving in this time of transition – automation, halos, enhancement, abundance and discovery.

  • Automation: Outsource rote, computational work to the new machine. This is how Netflix automated away Blockbuster and how Uber is automating crowdsourced transportation.
  • Halos: Instrument products and people and maximise the data (aka a “Code Halo”) they generate – via their connected and online behaviours – to create new customer experiences and business models. GE and Nike are instrumenting their products, surrounding them with halos of data, and creating new value propositions with improved customer intimacy.
  • Enhancement: View the computer as a colleague that can help increase job productivity and satisfaction. For example, a car’s GPS system improves truck driver performance by enhancing navigation, providing alerts for road hazards, and ensuring the fastest route is taken on any given journey.
  • Abundance: Use the machine to open up vast new markets by dropping the price-point of existing offers. For example, Betterment is using AI to bring financial security to the masses by providing highly personalised, curated wealth management services 24x7.
  • Discovery: Maximise use of AI to conceive new products, new services, and new industries. Just as Edison’s light bulb led to discoveries in radio, television, and transistors, today’s new machines will lead to the next generation of invention.

The world is changing faster than ever before. Automation and the rise of AI are truly deep and unstoppable forces – they are the core of this incredible pace of change. The shift to the new machine and AI is inevitable but if managed wisely, it will ultimately be a positive force for companies, individuals, and society. Leaders can compete and win in the next phase of global business by driving productivity, customer intimacy, and innovation if they align the three Ms and think ahead.

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