AI/Robotic hand knocking down a domino, causing a cascading effect
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At the end of 2017, we took a look at what enterprises would be spending money on over the course of 2018 in the artificial intelligence (AI) space and were able to identify 10 different kinds of products. In fact, looking at the wider technology market we found that AI was the common denominator in all predictions of enterprise buying behavior over the year.

At the beginning of 2018, folks working in the AI space predicted its slow, but steady, move into the digital workplace and take over some of the mundane tasks to let employees focus on higher-level tasks. 

Now at the end of 2018, it appears we got it right. One of the most significant predictions was that AI would move into the digital workplace via customer experience technologies. Sure enough, that has happened. We turned to a number of executives to find out what technologies they thought would shape 2019. Unsurprisingly, while they named many different types of technologies, one common denominator connected them all — AI. So, is this the experience of vendors?

Graeme Provan, global director of business automation at Genesys, a customer experience and contact center solutions provider, said there several ways that AI, automation and bots are helping out remote workers in 2018. One of the key challenges for remote workers is handling employee churn and reducing the time it takes to onboard new employees. The onboarding process is faster and simpler using AI and robotic process automation (RPA) to help with learning and development.

AI-powered bots can also identify repetitive actions, learn the employees’ workflow, determine which actions are taking the longest time to do, and find where there is significant business benefit in automating those actions. Here are a number of trends that became more pronounced as the year progressed.

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1. Pushing the Edge

According to Kim Smith, content marketing manager with Good Firms, which offers a research and review platform to help businesses find agencies, software or consultants to tackle their business challenges. 2018 saw an eruption of AI-backed-IoT normalization in the market, that is piling up loads of data to store and analyze. This has really put a strain on industries that are heavy users of data. Even though AI and machine learning (ML) is now capable of processing this data it needs to be done in real-time.

“We need places that are closer to the data and can be used as a platform to analyze data. As a result, the entire operations through 2019 will be pushing edge computing to not only reduce traffic and latency, but also to accommodate the latest AI technologies.

2. Voice Control of AI Devices

To help the use and adoption of AI in the enterprises, AI powered smart assistants have become an important part of the digital workplace. However, there are too many applications to cover too many functions. “The experiences [with AI] have been frustrating in digital workplaces as they failed to connect with employees as well as customers on humane grounds,” she said.

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3. Reality-as-a-Service

We talked in some detail over the year about virtual reality and augmented reality and what they bring to the workplace. However, according to Rob Newman, CEO and managing director of Nearmap, there are other AI-driven realities worth looking at. With high-resolution, 3-D aerial imagery, for example, you can effectively deliver Reality-as-a-Service (RaaS). RaaS allows you to stream reality — not reconstructed design images, but the real thing in very detailed aerial views. Through RaaS, you can see streets, buildings, local infrastructure or any other location in immersive 3-D.

Combine RaaS with another dimension — time — and you can see what has changed in an area. For example, a retail development company can discover how many new homes were built in a specific subdivision compared to the last six months.  “RaaS applications are unlimited. Some of the industries on the forefront of potential applications are autonomous driving, smart cities, retail and commercial development, mapping, architecture, design, construction, insurance and solar and engineering industries, among others,” he said.

4. Personalized Advertising

Customer experience and sales were two of the first enterprise departments to look at AI to develop a competitive edge. So, how has that evolved over 2018? Conor Ryan, CIO at StitcherAds, said Facebook advertisers are dealing with data from countless sources — pixels, app events, CRM systems, customer-generated content, and more. It’s not possible to manually segment all of this data. “To enable better personalization, we will need AI to determine where each consumer should see ads, the ad formats they should see, and how they should see them.

5. Sales Enablement

For Carson Conant, CEO at Mediafly, AI and ML will continue to drive improvements as it relates to sales enablement and the customer relationship. “We all know that AI and ML can identify trends that we’re unable to see as humans. But soon, AI and ML will identify buying trends across integrated systems, such as sales enablement, training and web browsing, so that each one informs all [the others]. This integration will expand opportunities in both sales and marketing to help provide better experiences and drive results.”

6. VPNs to Disappear?

AI also had considerable impact on security as enterprises started to use it to secure IoT and hybrid cloud deployments. DH2i CEO and co-founder Don Boxley identified two ways AI is being used for security that are likely to develop over the course of the next year.

Making smart products, IoT devices, is the new product differentiator. Even ovens have IP addresses now. Companies that have been investing in IoT initiatives understand that the IoT gateway layer is the key that unlocks a high return on those IoT investments. IoT gateways manage device connectivity, protocol translation, updating, management, predictive and streaming data analytics, and data flow between devices and the cloud. “In 2018, improving the security of that high data flow with a zero trust security model drove enterprises to start replacing VPNs with micro-perimeters. Micro-perimeters remove an IoT device’s network presence eliminating any potential attack surfaces created by using a VPN,” he said.

7. Micro-perimeters for Hybrid Clouds

Many organizations are pursuing a hybrid strategy involving integrated on-premises systems and off-premises cloud/hosted resources. But traditional VPN software solutions are obsolete for the new IT reality of hybrid and multi-cloud. They weren’t designed for them. They’re complex to configure, and they give users a “slice of the network,” creating a lateral network attack surface. A new class of purpose-built security software emerged in 2018 to eliminate these issues and disrupt the cloud VPN market.

This new security software enables organizations to build lightweight dynamic micro-perimeters to secure application- and workload-centric connections between on-premises and cloud/hosted environments, with virtually no attack surface.

AI will Spread

However, not everything lived up to the hype. Salesforce has been putting together their predictions for what to expect in 2019 and beyond, and it’s not all good. Richard Socher, chief scientist at Salesforce pointed out that while people have been planning to have self-driving cars for a while, some still fear an AI takeover. However, a future dominated by AI is still a long way away. He predicts that our expectations for AI and the reality of its capability will meet somewhere in the middle.

“The next 5 years will look a lot like they do now, but our day-to-day will become more and more efficient in subtle, yet significant, ways. AI bots will get better at answering questions and vetting customer service cases, smart assistants will be more equipped to complete tasks, he said.

Responsible AI

If 2018 was the year of awakening, Kathy Baxter, architect of ethical AI practice at Salesforce, said 2019 will be the year of action. It won't be just data ethicists and human rights advocates demanding fairness, accountability and transparency. Consumers are already changing how they use Facebook or deleting their accounts altogether and this trend is likely to spread to other social media and other services that leverage personal data.

Greater numbers of pledges and declarations about the responsible creation and use of AI will be written, and companies will be pressured to adopt them. The public will fight back over government use of biased AI in decisions impacting human rights. More employees will demand influence over what they create and refuse to contribute to harmful automation. Companies will have to lead with a conscience — whether they are buying AI solutions or building them — and seek assurances that the systems are fair in order to avoid being the next headline on AI gone awry.