There’s a Chinese proverb that applies to machine learning in business: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.”
While it’s true that some companies have already started their machine learning journey, that doesn’t mean the race is already over. In my experience, companies that claim to be doing machine learning may not be as far along as they appear.
As the authors of the 2017 article “Reshaping Business With Artificial Intelligence” make clear, AI is still far from ubiquitous in the business world:
Three-quarters of executives believe AI will enable their companies to move into new businesses. Almost 85% believe AI will allow their companies to obtain or sustain a competitive advantage. But only about one in five companies has incorporated AI in some offerings or processes. Only one in 20 companies has extensively incorporated AI in offerings or processes. Less than 39% of all companies have an AI strategy in place. The largest companies — those with at least 100,000 employees — are the most likely to have an AI strategy, but only half have one.
In 2018, Thomas Davenport and Randy Bean wrote that their “effort to tell the story of how large organizations are deploying artificial intelligence in their businesses” was hindered when the companies they approached admitted “they weren’t actually very far along and hence their projects were not worth discussing yet. They were doing lots of pilots, proofs of concept, and prototypes, but they had few production deployments.”
Perhaps the most memorable way to describe this stage of technology adoption comes from behavioral economist Dan Ariely:
Big data is like teenage sex: everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it…
Ariely wrote that in 2013. Swap out “big data” for “machine learning,” and the post could easily apply today.
Combining the relatively immature state of machine learning in today’s business world with optimism for its future potential leads to an exciting conclusion: the business future of machine learning is yours to define, shape, and win.
If you have a dream to transform your organization with machine learning, you still have time to make it happen. To quote Doctor Emmet Brown at the end of Back to the Future III, “your future hasn’t been written yet. No one’s has. Your future is whatever you make it — so make it a good one.”
Robbie Allen is a Senior Advisor to Infinia ML, a team of data scientists, engineers, and business experts putting machine learning to work.