If the computer is “a bicycle for our minds,” Artificial Intelligence is a Harley Davidson


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In a 1980 interview for a documentary film, a young Steve Jobs observed, “…the computer is the most remarkable tool that we’ve ever come up with. It’s the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.”

Jobs’ bicycle analogy illustrated the ability of the computer to amplify the power of the human brain. His statement also showed a deep appreciation for the unlimited potential of humans to interact with information and technology. I have no doubt that if Jobs were still with us today he would see how the computer as a ‘bicycle for the mind’ has evolved into something even greater with the proliferation of Artificial Intelligence (AI). I think this means the bicycle for the mind is now more like a Harley Davidson.

AI has been part of our vernacular for more than 60 years. However, for much of that time, the development of AI was limited by the processing speed and storage capacity of computers, not to mention restrictions on funding. Despite these roadblocks, AI research and development continued, but it was recognized by the public in its depictions as twisted science fiction. Think “Terminator” robots destructing mankind.

Today AI is thriving in the age of “big data,” where computer processors can now handle massive amounts of data and turn them into what is practical and useful. Commonly referred to as “machine learning,” new AI applications can absorb vast amounts of data, recognize patterns, and “learn” from them, much as the human brain does.

Mainstream applications for AI have increased in the past three years; thanks to Elon Musk, the development of the self-driving car gets a lot of attention, and we can now ask Alexa to help us manage our households. But perhaps the most promising and exciting uses of AI to date have been in the medical field, where AI is carving better paths for curing diseases, building customized cancer treatments based on individual genetic codes and medical history, and speeding up the process of pharmaceutical development. AI is also a reality in banking, retail and manufacturing, proving that its use to process data is not only feasible, it has become an imperative to advancements in nearly every industry.
If they are not already doing so, business owners need to begin factoring in AI to their growth equation, and ask themselves questions such as:
• “Can we use AI to build an algorithm that can learn customer shopping preferences so that we can market accordingly?”
• “Can we reconfigure our CRM using AI to recognize calling patterns, success rates and prospecting in order to better pinpoint sales targets?”
• “Can we apply AI to our corporate intranet to create customized content and improve the employee experience?”

The answer to all of these questions is a definitive “YES”. The key lies in using creativity to determine where and how you can apply the power of AI to advance your business.

Of course, many business owners will look at AI as something that is not necessary, cost prohibitive or something to explore “down the road.” Those owners should think twice and remember that the use of technology has shaped the advancement of nearly every industry. History has shown that early-adopter brands have come out on top, while those who were late to the party or ignored trends altogether were left in the lurch. Imagine the business owner who decided to stick with typewriters instead of transitioning to word-processors, the hospital that was late in adopting non-invasive laser surgery techniques or the supermarket that did not buy into the barcode system?

Although the AI surface has barely been scratched and its broad applications and implications are still largely unknown, for most businesses AI is not a forward-looking concept, but a necessity for here and now. Business owners must recognize this need and ask themselves not if, but how AI can work to improve their business.

Ross Freedman
Ross Freedman is co-founder of Rightpoint, the largest independent customer experience agency in the U.S. He is a passionate entrepreneur, driven to marry creativity and technology in order to solve business problems and transform brands, and an established thought leader who examines innovation in business. In 2015, Ross was named the Midwest winner of the prestigious EY "Entrepreneur of the Year" with his Rightpoint co-founder Brad Schneider.


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