Bringing AI to the masses

Person shaking hands with digital hand - AI innovation for the masses
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It used to belong to top-tier research universities, big banks, and pioneers in the tech field – and James Cameron of course. In just a few short years, however, AI has accelerated beyond exclusive rights. Now, the technology fits into the palm of your hand and can be seen and interacted with every day.

About the author

Prakash Ramamurthy is the Chief Product Officer at Freshworks.

This explosion is happening quickly – the AI market is predicted to grow over 16% year-on-year in 2021 and by 2024, it’s expected to break the $500 billion mark. Despite being all but ubiquitous in our everyday lives – with the likes of Siri, Cortana, and even website chatbots interacting with us regularly – for many businesses, AI is still out of reach, despite the efficiencies and benefits it can bring. Recent research has even shown that over 60% of businesses have no plans to implement AI into their IT management systems, let alone the rest of the business.

The AI expectation

AI enables businesses to be more efficient and productive, maximizing workloads across teams and supporting during periods of high demand. Having an AI system that can grow with the business and handle much of the support work, can be invaluable. With the growth of AI, however, there will come an expectation from end-users that AI systems are in place. By failing to keep up with the growing trends and latest technologies, businesses risk being left behind, by their customers but also their competition.

There are plenty of examples out there of tech-savvy challenger brands taking on established players. Many of these outfits are agile enough to integrate AI straight into their systems, without the cumbersome issues of legacy infrastructure. AI’s pervasiveness now also means that the barrier to entry is lower than even five years ago. Even SMBs are using AI as a differentiator not reliant on the size of the workforce, helping them to be faster and close the gap with larger competitors. As a result, customers’ expectations are increasing, placing a greater need for businesses to adopt AI to suit their end-users.

Democratization of AI

The democratization of AI is about leveling up businesses to equalize access to advanced technology, provide all companies with the potential to enhance the customer experience, and maintain healthy industry competition. Larger businesses have contributed to this trend by providing their own out-of-the-box AI solutions for others to integrate. However, true democratization means giving small businesses the ability to build their own AI in the same way that a Fortune 100 company does, without relying on anyone else.

As AI adoption spreads, especially amongst SMB’s, the cost for such platforms decreases. Economies of scale and greater skill development all lead to AI becoming a much easier solution for businesses to implement that hadn’t considered it before. The democratization of AI will help to increase the talent development pool which is regularly highlighted as a weak area for the tech industry. The UK’s AI sector has grown by 600% in the past decade and jobs in technology are at their highest level for five years. Such is the UK’s government’s focus on this area, that it has invested heavily with funding grants for AI-related research, investment in AI courses at universities, and a National Retaining Scheme to help close the skills gap.

For adoption to further increase, not only do AI products need to be more affordable, but also easier to use. For a small business using an AI platform for the first time, having a simple, easy-to-use system can help to save time and money. If using AI means that the sole trader needs to learn how to code and write algorithms, then democratization will have failed.

Freedom, within limits

AI is often a trigger word for many people. Despite its various benefits, the technology is still largely associated with concern over humans being replaced. But AI is so much broader than heavy-duty robots doing manual work - software robots, process automation, and chatbots are far subtler examples that show how humans and machines can co-exist. In fact, this is the most powerful combination of all, enhancing human attributes with speed and efficiency rather than ousting them.

However, the democratization of AI also has the potential to serve nefarious actors or unscrupulous companies looking to profit from consumer data harvesting. The bias issues that AI creates are a big area of concern for public acceptance of the technology and are one that needs to be fixed sooner rather than later. Privacy is another key issue, especially around the growth of data being stored and who has access to it, and that’s likely to increase as the barriers to entry are reduced.

However, the promise of AI should outweigh the negatives. We’ve already seen how users can take more control over their data through GDPR, so a similar opt-in feature is essential for any business looking to deploy AI. As automated systems collect more data - on a personal level but also a local government, national, or global level - they need balanced regulation that protects both privacy and gives industry the opportunity to innovate. For example, there are growing calls for an AI regulatory framework that constrains the services and features of the systems, without stifling innovation.

The ubiquity of any technology will have both positive and negative ramifications for society, but nowhere is that balance so widely debated than with AI. But this should not dampen its potential. By making AI algorithms and platforms more accessible to a wider array of companies, both big and small, the possibilities for scaling, investment, better industry competition, skill development, and company efficiency are significant and cannot be overlooked.

Prakash Ramamurthy

Prakash Ramamurthy is the Chief Product Officer at Freshworks.