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In the summer of 1956, 10 scientists and mathematicians gathered at New Hampshire's Dartmouth College to brainstorm a new concept Assistant Professor John McCarthy called "artificial intelligence." According to the original proposal for the research project, McCarthy—along with fellow organizers from Harvard, Bell Labs and IBM—wanted to explore the idea of programming machines to use language and solve problems for humans while improving over time.
It would be years before these lofty objectives were met, but the summer workshop is credited with launching the field of artificial intelligence (AI). Sixty years later, cognitive scientists, data analysts, UX designers and countless others are doing everything those pioneering scientists hoped for—and more. With deep learning, companies can make extraordinary progress in industries ranging from cybersecurity to marketing. It's just a matter of knowing where to start.
Think of AI as a machine-powered version of mankind's cognitive skills. These machines have the ability to interact with humans in a way that feels natural, and just like humans they can grasp complex concepts and extract insights from the information they're given. Artificial intelligence can understand, learn, interpret, and reason. The difference is that AI can do all of these things faster and on a much bigger scale.
"In the era of big data, we have the need to mine all of that information, and humans can no longer do it alone," says Mark Simpson, VP of offering management at IBM Watson Marketing. "AI has the capacity to create richer, more personalized digital experiences for consumers, and meet customers' increasingly high brand expectations."
The knowledge companies stand to gain by using AI seems to have no bounds. In healthcare, medical professionals are applying it to analyze patient data, explain lab results and support busy physicians. In the security industry, AI helps firms detect potential threats like malicious software in real time. Marketers, meanwhile, can use AI to synthesize data and identify key audience and performance insights, thus freeing them up to be more strategic and creative with their campaigns.
There's something else AI is very good at, and that's improving the relationship between companies and consumers. "Even in its earliest iteration, AI helped companies better understand how to be human," says Brian Solis, author and principal analyst at Altimeter, the digital analyst group at brand and marketing consultancy Prophet. "The irony is that it took this very advanced technology to make them think differently about how they should communicate with their customers."
Over the past 50 years, Solis says, advances like speech technology, automated attendants, virtual assistants and websites have opened a chasm between companies and customer engagement while also multiplying consumer touchpoints. But AI has the potential to close that gap.
By helping marketers collect data, identify new customer segments and create a more unified marketing and analytics system, AI can scale customer personalization and precision in ways that didn't exist before. Connecting customer data from sources like websites and social media enables companies to craft marketing messages that are more relevant to consumers' current needs. AI can deliver an ad experience that is more personalized for each user, shapes the customer journey, influences purchasing decisions and builds brand loyalty.
IBM's Watson Marketing is leading the charge with a platform that capitalizes on all that AI has to offer. Products like Customer Experience Analytics lets marketers visualize the customer journey and identify areas where consumers might be experiencing friction. Companies get a more complete view of the customer journey, which they can then optimize to improve customer engagement and conversion rates. Since it's delivered through a single, unified interface, IBM Watson Customer Experience Analytics makes gaining actionable intelligence a seamless process for brands.
According to market research firm TechNavio, the AI market in the U.S. is expected to grow at a compound actual growth rate of about 50 percent through 2021. In its 2017 report "Artificial Intelligence: The Next Digital Frontier?" the McKinsey Global Institute urges companies not to delay "advancing their digital journeys"—especially when it comes to leveraging AI. "It's those who understand how to use AI in new ways, to create new mindsets and paradigms, that will instill a competitive advantage that wasn't there before," Solis says.
We've entered the age of deep learning, and with human guidance AI is finally reaching its true potential. Today, the technology McCarthy and his colleagues dreamed about in 1956 takes the form of AI platforms like Watson Marketing. And now is the right time to truly harness the power of AI and put it to work for business success.
Find out more about how Watson Marketing can uncover insights to help you better understand your customers. Read the Guide.
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