This article was original published to Entreprenuer on June 27, 2018.
In the same way the first iPhone changed how we viewed cellphones, Google Duplex, a new digital voice assistant that can make calls and sets up appointments on our behalf, is showing us that voice assistants can do more than just purchase laundry detergent and play music.
Duplex reframes our view of voice assistants from a clever user interface meant for consumers only, into a powerful business tool that can get almost anything done, independently of you.
Of course, as the intelligence of assistants grows, so do people’s anxiety. HAL 9000’s red eye hovers over any discussion of AI assistants like a menacing cyclops. And the advance of AI certainly poses serious questions about automation and work. The ethical concern raised over Duplex mimicking a human assistant isn’t needless handwringing. Fortunately, these anxieties are neither new nor unanswerable. Because thankfully, as AI get smarter, we entrepreneurs get smarter right along with them.
The future of AI looks more like cooperation than competition.
The power to increase your mental horsepower comes from harnessing AI assistants to do two distinct tasks:
Carry out brain-taxing, menial tasks for you so you can focus on higher-level work
Combine your natural abilities with tasks that machines do better, like analyzing massive datasets
To imagine how AI can immediately be integrated into daily life, consider a typical office meeting. Now, instead of every important decision made during that meeting evaporating the moment it ends, imagine an AI assistant using natural language processing to transcribe the meeting notes. Instead of everyone leaving with a fuzzy idea about what to do next, imagine an AI assistant using machine learning to process that transcription to pull out and assign the action items for each attendee.
The current AI revolution digitizes such mundane tasks and spoken work done in our offices -- making us smarter by collecting, storing and analyzing the kinds of information we don’t normally give to computers.
AI assistants will continue, like Duplex, to be narrow in scope, typically serving a single purpose, and be very good at what they do. Rather than using a single voice assistant for everything, a team of these programs likely will share the burden of the 1,000 menial brain tasks we do every day. They will not be human replacements, but they will be tools for driving specific outcomes.
A 2017 survey by PwC found that 31 percent of business and IT leaders name AI assistants as the top innovation they expect to change their business. For comparison, automated data analysis (29 percent) and automated communications (28 percent) came second and third. Around 80 percent of those same executives see huge potential in AI to alleviate repetitive tasks like paperwork, scheduling and timesheets.
In fact, PwC estimates that AI could be worth $15.8 trillion in increased global GDP by 2030.
Incorporating AI assistants into a team requires some work.
Teaming up with AI requires knowing how to cooperate with a different type of intelligence. Many people don’t know how to team up with AI assistants because they misunderstand how they work. The mystery surrounding AI leads people to think of it as some magical machine consciousness -- often one that many suspect has bad intentions (see the half-joking/half-serious news articles about Alexa’s maniacal laugh for proof).
And it may be this misunderstanding that’s holding some entrepreneurs back from leveraging these powerful new tools. Yet, for entrepreneurs asking themselves, “Where do we even start?” -- the answer couldn’t be simpler: just start.
Companies that begin using AI now will, in the long run, significantly outperform those that do not. After all, as most entrepreneurs know, first-mover advantage is everything and the best education comes from direct experience.
Google proved their commitment to be an AI-first company this year. They even rebranded Google Research as Google AI. But they’re not the only ones driving AI forward. As Google was demoing Duplex, Microsoft presented their own vision of an AI assistant that could turn meeting chatter into notes and actions. Amazon continues to build out Alexa as a platform for voice assistants, and the applications for IBM’s Watson keep growing as well. As these companies turn their AI technology into platforms for other developers to use, the amount of AI-powered tech will explode. Alexa already has more than 10,000 skills added by other companies, and Google just made some of its AI tools available to developers through ML Kit.
Whatever the long-term fate of Duplex and other new AI business offerings, they definitely signal the transition of such assistants from convenient novelties to serious tools for amplifying work.