Recently, like millions of people, I used a carpooling app on my smartphone. It was uneventful and I didn’t think much about it. Carpooling is simple and convenient, and it is now a More than 80 billion dollars industry. But not so long ago, that didn’t even exist. We had cars, we had passengers and drivers; but to work, carpooling needed smartphones. As they arrived, a huge variety of amenities and new experiences also emerged – some of which have become industries in their own right – that we could never have imagined.
Artificial intelligence is a similar type of enabler; this is the next wave of truly transformative technologies with potential that we cannot yet fully imagine or appreciate. It is the defining technology of our time, changing the way we live and work. Throughout my career in technology, I have I’ve never been so excited and optimistic than I am now. I have a colleague at Microsoft who talks about AI like this: you have to use the “new thing” to do the old things better. Then you use the new thing to… do new things. He is right.
Let’s take an example from healthcare. Paige is a software company that uses AI to change the way doctors identify, diagnose and treat cancers. With properly trained and tuned models, AI can examine thousands of digital pathology images, pixel by pixel, and detect anomalies faster and more accurately. Imagine what these tools can unlock not only for pathologists and doctors, but also for patients. This means earlier detection of illnesses, a healthier life and more time with loved ones.
By now, every business, regardless of size or industry, should be thinking about AI. AI is moving from its autopilot phase, which consisted only of narrow, purpose-built tools that use machine learning models to make predictions, recommendations, and automate, to its copilot phase, where there is tremendous opportunity to revolutionize the way almost everything is done. Leaders who embrace AI now and take steps to understand it, experiment with it, and imagine how it can solve difficult problems will lead businesses that thrive in an AI world.
But where to start ? Almost every day, I speak with business leaders who are asking important questions about the potential of AI. No matter where you are on your AI journey, it is up to every leader to seize this unique time and take advantage of this powerful technology. If you don’t know where to start or how to move forward, you’re not alone. As with any business planning exercise, think about your AI strategy in phases. Embrace agility and change, and keep a mindset of continuous learning, calibrating and adjusting your game plan as you go.
Start by experimenting
The best way to learn about AI is to use it. It is rare that a new and disruptive technology is immediately accessible. It is. Most of the executives I speak with have tried popular AI applications like ChatGPT or the new Bing. There are many other options, but the point is to be curious.
Try applying it to whatever task comes your way and see what it’s good at and what it’s not. Use it to generate interview questions, write a memo, research and summarize a topic you want to learn more about, or provoke thought about a document. I used Bing and ChatGPT to help me come up with speech ideas. I used Microsoft 365 Copilot, the AI integration in Microsoft apps to generate slides, search and summarize documents sharing a topic, and summarize email exchanges with colleagues. By using and experimenting with AI, you will be better placed to imagine how it could be used in your organization – and you probably know better than anyone where opportunities and potential exist.
Deploy for Productivity
When it comes to productivity, AI co-pilots – from Microsoft and others – can be deployed or integrated into applications to assist or simplify certain tasks. Less than two years after its launch, GitHub Copilot is already writing 46% code on its repository and helps developers code up to 55% faster. Imagine what developers do with that extra time. Three in four users say it helps them conserve mental energy and focus on more satisfying work. In other words: create new things and solve new problems.
Consider the workflows and process-driven activities in your business: things like payroll, onboarding, or IT help desk technical support. These are all repeatable, rules-based processes that can be streamlined with AI. It’s driving a whole new category of AI software that can handle manual tasks and reshape many business processes.
There’s another way to think about AI for productivity: time. If you’re in the fraud detection business or a security analyst, time may be your greatest asset or challenge. If you can reduce the time it takes to sift through lots of data-rich, time-sensitive information, you’re already better and more efficient at your job.
Today, AI is already impacting how businesses deliver better, faster, more efficient or entirely new experiences, from predictive text on your phone to chatbots on websites to suggested searches when you open a browser.
For example, PWC uses Azure OpenAI Service to extend and scale its own AI offerings while helping customers in industries like insurance and healthcare reinvent their businesses by leveraging the power of generative AI. CarMax uses it to analyze hundreds of thousands of customer reviews and surface key takeaways for buyers about every make, model and year of vehicle in its inventory.
Even in its early stages, AI is also improving employee experience. A recent Microsoft investigation found that 89% of employees and business decision-makers with access to automation and AI-based tools feel more fulfilled. They say it’s because they can spend time on work that really matters. Nine out of ten people said they want the opportunity to apply AI solutions to even more tasks and activities.
I see this already happening in some of the organizations I work with. They are looking for more advanced AI in use cases such as customer support, editorial assistance, or data extraction and classification. The common thread in each of them is using AI to exploit resources or information. you have already to transform people’s experiences.
Build new things
The steps above are versions of using the “new thing” to do the old things better, to borrow my colleague’s turn of phrase. But how can you use novelty to actually do new things? What can you do that’s completely different? How can we satisfy customers and create new business sectors and, with them, new revenues?
This is the challenge facing business leaders today; and it’s difficult. The answer starts with integrating AI into your organization and iterating from there. Because while AI will enable individuals and organizations to accomplish more, we are only at the very beginning of defining what “more” looks like. But to move forward, we must put in place the conditions that will help us discover what comes next.
One of the most exciting aspects of using AI to be more effective – whether it’s using generative AI to come up with ideas or conduct research – is that it allows you to think more deeply about a concept or problem you are trying to solve. It’s not far off to imagine how this level of concentrated effort will enable companies to develop truly new and innovative solutions more quickly; then enjoy the snowball effect of this speed.
Throughout: Prioritizing Security and Responsible AI
Despite all the promises of AI, one thing is certain. We will not realize the full potential of AI without protective measures. Technology has always been an accelerator and an enabler. AI is no different, but it presents potential risks that need to be managed.
For any business, the success of responsible AI initiatives depends on at least three things. First, it requires committed and involved leadership. (Microsoft Vice Chairman and President Brad Smith and our Chief Technology Officer Kevin Scott chair our Responsible AI Council.) Second, companies must build inclusive solutions. governance models And concrete guidelines, as we did. Finally, they must also invest in responsible AI in the form of new engineering systems, research-driven incubations and in the people who will ensure responsible AI principles are put into practice. At Microsoft, hundreds of people work on this, and for many of them, it’s their full-time job. Beyond that, we’ve adopted the mindset that using AI responsibly is a responsibility we all share, regardless of your role.
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The AI roadmap will be different for every organization, and it will be different depending on whether you are a technology company or not. Tech companies are more likely to have already implemented some form of intelligent agent into their software experiences, for example. But for everyone, the potential is enormous and now is the time to get started.
Just like the smartphones needed for ride-sharing, there are yet-to-be-designed industries that will need AI to take off. Most of us recognize that AI will be a complete game changer. We see the practical applications – not just for the technology landscape but for humanity, and that’s what’s really profound about all of this.
The AI market is evolving rapidly, and the cycles in and around AI are faster than ever. Right now, business leaders have a tremendous opportunity to embrace AI and adapt to the profound changes that lie ahead. There are exponentially greater opportunities for companies using AI to lead and drive this change.