What Your Customers Don’t Understand About Artificial Intelligence

Dr. Rob Walker, Vice President, Decision Management & Analytics at Pegasystems explores the survey results of a global study conducted by Pega that examines consumer sentiment and openness towards using AI

It seems that everywhere you look at the moment, people are talking about artificial intelligence (AI). Whether it’s personal assistants on our mobile phones like Siri or Cortana, or more advanced machines that are capable of outwitting their human counterparts at complex games like Go, there’s no escaping the fact that AI is something that’s moved from the realms of science-fiction and computer laboratories into the mainstream consciousness of the general public. So far, so good — but for businesses trying to tap into the potential of this technology, how do they use it in a way that their customers will understand and value?

It’s a more difficult question to answer than you might think, not only because many customers don’t understand what AI is, but also because, in many cases, they don’t realize that they are already using it. A recent study conducted by Pegasystems amongst 6,000 global consumers found that just 33 percent of respondents thought they had previously encountered AI. This is despite the fact that 77 percent said that they use things such as virtual home assistants, intelligent chat bots or predictive product suggestions — all of which use artificial intelligence in one way or another.

Clearly, this suggests that a large number of consumers are confused about what exactly AI is and how it is used. Perhaps more important is the suggestion that this confusion could also lead them to becoming fearful of using the technology in the future. Tellingly, the research found that only 35 percent of consumers are currently comfortable with businesses using AI to engage with them. Meanwhile, 72 percent expressed some sort of fear over what AI could bring, with almost a quarter (24 percent) admitting that they were worried that artificial intelligence could result in robots taking over the world!

Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised by these figures — after all, if history has taught us anything it’s that people tend to fear what they don’t understand. What’s clear is that relatively few consumers have a firm grasp of what AI actually is, and it’s this hurdle that organizations must clear if they are to win the trust of their customers to use it in a way that they will accept. Fundamental to this is exploding the myth that artificial intelligence is something that’s a completely new invention or, worse still, something to be seen as futuristic and mysterious.

To put this theory to bed, let’s examine how we should define AI. Popular culture may insist on depicting it as a form of self-aware technology from some distant, dystopian future taking part in a pitched battle against humanity, as seen in The Terminator film series. But the truth is, thankfully, far more sedate. Put simply, artificial intelligence means making computers and machines capable of intelligent behavior — an approach that’s been in widespread use since the early 1980s in the form of advanced business rule engines, data-driven predictive and machine learning analytics. So, if you hear any organization telling you that they are doing something ‘innovative’ just because of the fact that they have invested in AI, you should probably bear in mind that — provided they haven’t created something that’s capable of passing the Turing test — they either don’t fully understand what AI means themselves, or are woefully behind the curve!

This becomes even more apparent when you consider that the majority of customers have already been using artificial intelligence as a staple part of their daily interactions with businesses for many years now. For example, every time a consumer uses a customer service chat bot or receives a personalized email from a company with a product recommendation, they are engaging with artificial intelligence, whether they realize it or not. Changing this perception of what constitutes AI is key for organizations if they are to make greater use of the technology in the future.

An important part of this process must be the demystification and education of customers on AI and the benefits it can bring. Organizations must wear their use of AI as a badge of honor and be proud to shout about all of the benefits their customers are receiving as a result of using it — from better customer engagement to faster and more effective business operations, they must be seen to shine a light on AI, not keep their customers in the dark as to its use. The same study shows that nearly 70 percent of consumers were willing to experience more AI if it were to make their lives easier, which demonstrates that a tangible appetite for this technology exists as long as the benefits of using it are made clear.

In doing so, businesses can remove the layer of fear and confusion that currently surrounds this technology and open the door to increased use in the future. But what does the future hold when it comes to businesses using AI? Changing the existing paradigm will play an important part in shaping that, but as the technology continues to evolve and its use becomes more widely accepted and used by consumers, there has to be an acceptance that humans are not the standard for which AI should be measured against. Indeed, much of the confusion that consumers experience today around use of artificial intelligence seems to stem from the idea of measuring the experiences they get from interacting with machines against those they get from a human.

With the exception of specific applications like customer service, where human interaction is key, it will become increasingly important in the years to come for businesses not to use how ‘human like’ technology is as the standard of its success. The next few years will see AI being able to far outperform what humans are capable of doing in terms of speed and quality, and will result in them becoming able to add far greater value as a result. Of course, none of this is to suggest that machines will ultimately replace humans — to do so would be to play into some of the existing uncertainty and fear that surrounds artificial intelligence. Instead, the role of machines will be to support and augment humans within organizations to make them more effective — not to overthrow them. If we are to achieve this and experience the very real and tangible benefits that artificial intelligence can provide, then it’s going to be critical to educate your customers as much as possible today if you are to allow them to fully embrace the future.

This article was originally published on MarTech Advisor

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