“Every enterprise we work with, in every industry, is now asking ‘How do I use AI?’” So said Genpact CEO Tiger Tyagarajan at a Techonomy panel discussion about artificial intelligence in Davos, Switzerland, on the sidelines of the recent World Economic Forum. [Full video is here.] And those executives are focusing on the right thing, said Nielsen CEO David Kenny: “The future is going to start being predicted, in our whole lives. That is really going to change business.” Genpact, a global professional services firm specializing in digital transformation, co-hosted the event.
Along with Kenny, who until recently headed IBM’s Watson AI division, the third panelist was Richard Socher, a renowned AI engineer who is chief scientist at Salesforce.
Tyagarajan reported on a recent survey Genpact conducted among both business leaders and consumers about AI, in a number of countries. On balance, the new research shows executives are eager to get a grip on AI and start employing it in their businesses. And consumers “are cautiously OK with it,” he said. “They’re ready to reskill themselves.” But he noted that they also generally worry that the training they need is not being offered by their employers or local governments.  More detail on the survey here.
One central question always emerges in such discussions: “how will AI impact jobs?” On that, Socher was optimistic for the long term but not the short term. “In sales, for example, if you’re 50% more efficient in AI, you’re not going to get rid of salespeople. You’re going to do more sales,” he said, adding “In marketing, there will be new kinds of jobs, for people who understand that with the right kind of inputs you can do more.”
But Socher worries about people who today occupy jobs that involve repetitive tasks that can be quickly learned by a computer. Truck drivers, for example, are on his worry list. “If you’re towards the end of your work life you may not want to learn new skills,” he said. “I’m also worried about some countries and their social safety nets,” he added. As the survey suggests, people will need support for the AI transition.
Despite a few caveats, optimism among the panelists about the potential for AI to improve life and business was palpable. Said Kenny: “AI is moving towards higher forms of reasoning, not just revealing known stuff, but finding new stuff.” Tyagarajan agreed, saying “The visionary CEOs are seeing that this is about a change in the business model.”
The Genpact CEO suggested a few ways AI might change industries. For example, while Amazon today is quick to ship us what we want, in future it or its future competitors might ship things to us before we even know we want them. When the software makes an error, we could ship the item back. “That is a radical shift in business model,” said Tyagarajan.
He also said that just as consumers have long received pre-approved credit cards, such approaches could be applied to business loans, too, by using AI: “A coffee shop can be approved for a new coffee machine before they even apply for the loan.” Or, he asked, “What if everyone gets an insurance policy for actually the time they’re driving their car? If it’s sitting in the garage, you don’t pay for the insurance. That’s micro-insurance.”
Socher had his own industrial predictions: “We’ll see a lot of personalized medicine…There are lots of countries where there aren’t enough radiologists. Medical equipment companies may be able to sell scanners with a subscription to AI-based results.”
Tyagarajan, too, sees huge opportunities in health care, especially for those who have long been disenfranchised: “There are hundreds of thousands of villages where there has never been a doctor. You can do diagnosis with an AI.”
He pointed to the potential scale of AI-based social change: “There are…two billion people in the world who don’t have access to health care and education and financial services. Maybe they want to deposit two cents per day. Over two years they may have collected $15 and can buy something to help their farm. Today no bank can do that. But AI could.”
One thing all three experts agreed was that AI is still in its infancy, or whatever metaphor you prefer: “We’re at the five yard line,” said Kenny.
The Nielsen CEO is not much impressed with how businesses have harnessed AI so far. “I have not seen the companies yet who have decomposed an operation to really predict the future,” he said. “It’s more likely to be new companies than old ones…Amazon could even become Sears if it doesn’t keep inventing.”

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