0731 GMT January 29, 2022
As a species, humanity has witnessed three previous industrial revolutions: First came steam/water power, followed by electricity, and then computing. Now, we’re in the midst of a fourth industrial revolution, one driven by artificial intelligence (AI) and big data.
I like to refer to this as the “Intelligence Revolution." But whatever we call it — the fourth industrial revolution, Industry 4.0 or the Intelligence Revolution — one thing is clear: This latest revolution is going to transform our world, just as the three previous industrial revolutions did.
What makes AI so impactful?
AI gives intelligent machines (be they computers, robots, drones, or whatever) the ability to “think” and act in a way that previously only humans could. This means they can interpret the world around them, digest and learn from information, make decisions based on what they’ve learned, and then take appropriate action — often without human intervention. It’s this ability to learn from and act upon data that is so critical to the Intelligence Revolution, especially when you consider the sheer volume of data that surrounds us today. AI needs data, and lots of it, in order to learn and make smart decisions. This gives us a clue as to why the Intelligence Revolution is happening now.
After all, AI isn’t a new concept. The idea of creating intelligent machines has been around for decades. So why is AI suddenly so transformative?
The answer to that question is two-fold:
We have more data than ever before. Almost everything we do (both in the online world and the offline world) creates data. Thanks to the increasing digitization of our world, we now have access to more data than ever before, which means AI has been able to grow much smarter, faster, and more accurate in a very short space of time. In other words, the more data intelligent machines have access to, the faster they can learn, and the more accurate they become at interpreting the information. As a very simple example, think of Spotify recommendations. The more music (or podcasts) you listen to via Spotify, the better able Spotify is to recommend other content that you might enjoy. Netflix and Amazon recommendations work on the same principle, of course.
Power of processing
Impressive leaps in computing power make it possible to process and make sense of all that data. Thanks to advances like cloud computing and distributed computing, we now have the ability to store, process, and analyze data on an unprecedented scale. Without this, data would be worthless.
I guarantee your business is going to have to get smarter. In fact, every business is going to have to get smarter — from small startups to global corporations, from digital-native companies to more traditional businesses. Organizations of all shapes and sizes will be impacted by the Intelligence Revolution.
Take a seemingly traditional sector like farming. Agriculture is undergoing huge changes, in which technology is being used to intelligently plan what crops to plant, where and when, in order to maximize harvests and run more efficient farms. Data and AI can help farmers monitor soil and weather conditions, and the health of crops. Data is even being gathered from farming equipment, in order to improve the efficiency of machine maintenance. Intelligent machines are being developed that can identify and delicately pick soft ripe fruits, sort cucumbers, and pinpoint pests and diseases. The image of a bucolic, traditional farm is almost a thing of the past. Farms that refuse to evolve risk being left behind.
This is the impact of the Intelligence Revolution. All industries are evolving rapidly. Innovation and change is the new norm. Those who can’t harness AI and data to improve their business — whatever the business — will struggle to compete.
Just as in each of the previous industrial revolutions, the Intelligence Revolution will utterly transform the way we do business. For your company, this may mean you have to rethink the way you create products and bring them to market, rethink your service offering, rethink your everyday business processes, or perhaps even rethink your entire business model.
Forget the good vs. bad debate
In my experience, people fall into one of two camps when it comes to AI. They’re either excited at the prospect of a better society, in which intelligent machines help to solve humanity’s biggest challenges, make the world a better place, and generally make our everyday lives easier. Then there are those who think AI heralds the beginning of the end, the dawning of a new era in which intelligent machines supersede humans as the dominant life-form on Earth.
Personally, I sit somewhere in the middle. I’m certainly fascinated and amazed by the incredible things that technology can achieve. But I’m also nervous about the implications, particularly the potential for AI to be used in unethical, nefarious ways.
But in a way, the debate is pointless. Whether you’re a fan of AI or not, the Intelligence Revolution is coming your way. Technology is only going in one direction — forward, into an ever-more intelligent future. There’s no going back.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t consider the implications of AI or work hard to ensure AI is used in an ethical, fair way — one that benefits society as well as the bottom line. Of course, we should do that. But it's important to understand that; however, you feel about it, AI cannot be ignored. Every business leader needs to come to terms with this fact and take action to prepare their company accordingly. This means working out how and where AI will make the biggest difference to your business, and developing a robust AI strategy that ensures AI delivers maximum value.
* Bernard Marr is an internationally best-selling author, popular keynote speaker, futurist, and a strategic business & technology advisor to governments and companies. This article was first published on forbes.com.