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Most of AI’s promise may be in the future, but companies must prepare now or risk falling behind for good, says CEO of Earley Information Science  

MIT CIO Symposium Panel

Artificial intelligence has become the “it” topic in the business news sections and throughout the tech world, commanding attention for everything from self-driving cars to predictive analytics and maintenance. But many companies are watching from the sidelines, convinced that there is little AI can do for them now and that it will be easy enough to plug in down the road, when the full power of the technology will kick in.   

These companies are fooling themselves and flirting with existential danger, warns Seth Earley, founder and CEO of Earley Information Science Corp. (EIS), a leading consulting firm focused on organizing information for business impact.

“They don’t know what they don’t know, and they don’t appreciate the capabilities that they don’t have,” said Earley, issuing a call to action following his recent appearance at this year’s MIT Sloan CIO Symposium.

“They are operating under the delusion that once they decide to adopt AI, it will magically do everything for them. But AI is not magic, and companies that are not putting in the time and the effort now to learn how to apply AI to today’s problems are going to lose ground, perhaps permanently, to companies that will.”

At the CIO Symposium, Earley participated in a panel discussion moderated by Joi Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab. One of the big takeaways from the panel, “Putting AI to Work,” is that the technology, at least for the immediate future, represents less of a threat to replace human workers and more of a positive change, in that it could improve, or “augment,” human activity.

And even though companies may not think AI is relevant to their activities, Earley says, the processes they use to perform those activities are often ripe for AI efficiencies. “Companies that realize this and act on it,” Earley says, “will become more competitive and therefore will outperform their peers.”

“AI is evolving very quickly, and organizations need to move quickly, too, to build fundamental new abilities for the new AI world,” Earley says. Ironically, they have to make the transition the old-fashioned way, “based on tried-and-true information management principles. AI tools don’t operate on junk—otherwise, it’s garbage in, garbage out. In other words, it’s the data, stupid. The AI machines have to be ‘fed’ the right data and the right content, properly structured and curated.”   

That structure, a company’s so-called knowledge architecture, is core to the AI process. It makes it easier to find and use information today—helping you, for instance, to deal quickly and correctly with an on-line customer’s questions—even as it positions you for the further preparations that will be needed to handle AI in the long term. “If you don’t have that right, you can’t build on top of it,” Earley says.

Eventually, AI will prove very disruptive to the job market, but for now the change is more subtle:  rather than replacing people, AI is shifting them into roles and tasks that will require new skills.

“It’s really about making people more productive,” Earley says. “We have to look at this as a partnership, using AI to build new capabilities through really high-quality, interactive, personalized training that takes into consideration different learning styles and natural skills.”

“We have to train the robots with the right knowledge architecture,” Earley says. “But we also have to train the people to use the robots.”

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Please use these links to access the CIO Symposium discussion on putting AI to work and to review EIS resources about AI.

Seth Earley’s expertise includes knowledge strategy, data and information architecture and search-based applications. For more than 20 years, he has worked with a diverse roster of Fortune 1000 companies. He helps them improve performance by making information more findable, usable and valuable, particularly with reference to analytics, eCommerce and customer experience. He has briefed many C-level executives on the principles of AI and cognitive computing, explaining the practical steps that need to be taken to cut through the noise and get value from emerging technologies. He can be reached at seth@earley.com.

About Earley Information Science: Earley Information Science is a specialized information agency. We support business outcomes by organizing your data. Our proven methodologies are designed specifically to address product data, content assets, customer data and corporate knowledge bases. We deliver governance-driven solutions that scale and adapt to your business as it grows. For more information, visit www.earley.com