Will 2020 bring a reality check for AI aspirations?

11 Dec 2019

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As AI shifts from experimentation mode to more grounded, practical applications, Forrester’s Srividya Sridharan predicts how people, trust and leadership will drive this technology forward in 2020.

The artificial intelligence (AI) zeitgeist today is filled with grand visions, pragmatism, hope, fear, success, failure and everything in between. As with any megatrend, AI has captured the imagination and envy of many corporate leaders.

Forrester’s data shows that many groups across the enterprise – software developers, B2C marketers, data and analytics decision-makers, mobility decision-makers etc – have already tiptoed into some form of AI. We believe 2020 will be the year when companies become laser-focused on AI value, leap out of experimentation mode and ground themselves in reality to accelerate adoption.

Specifically, our Predictions 2020 report from several Forrester analysts and research colleagues foresees the following trends emerging in AI.

1. Leadership will break data logjams

Data scientists often struggle to acquire, transform and prepare the data they need to start a machine learning (ML) project. Data lakes, data engineers and data prep tools have helped, but the real problem is sourcing data from a complex portfolio of applications and convincing various data gatekeepers to play along.

In 2020, senior executives such as chief data and analytics officers (CDAOs) and CIOs who are serious about AI will come to the rescue, with a top-down mandate to get around the data access problem.

Firms with chief data officers (CDOs) are already about 1.5 times more likely to use AI, ML and/or deep learning for their insights initiatives than those without CDOs. Leadership matters.

2. Successful customer service will still need people power

Brands have flocked to conversational AI and chatbots to reduce the strain on (and costs of) their customer service organisations. But, more often than not, these overly ambitious projects fail to resolve customers’ issues or answer their questions.

Despite the maturation of the tool sets – including the expansion of pre-built and vertical-specific intent libraries and higher-power natural language understanding engines – by the end of 2020, conversational AI will still power less than 20pc of successful customer service interactions. That leaves the lion’s share of customers stuck interacting with chatbots that won’t even get close to passing the famed Turing test.

3. There will be PR disasters, but they won’t wreck trust in AI

AI can perpetuate harmful discrimination, bias, and even lead to fatal consequences, harming customers and corporate reputations.

In 2020, the potential areas for harm will multiply: the spread of deepfakes, misuse of facial recognition and overuse of personalisation can harm, offend or creep out customers and employees. Fortune 100 firms will have the most to lose, and we expect a few of them to face the most public exposure when things go wrong.

But these imbroglios won’t slow AI adoption plans next year. Instead, they will highlight the importance of designing, testing and deploying responsible AI systems with sound governance that considers bias, fairness, transparency, explainability and accountability.

By Srividya Sridharan

Srividya Sridharan is a VP and research director at Forrester serving customer insights professionals. She leads a team of analysts focusing on helping businesses collect, manage, analyse and apply customer data to win, serve and retain customers. Specifically, her team focuses on advanced analytics, predictive analytics, customer analytics, business intelligence and artificial intelligence.

Download Forrester’s Predictions 2020 guide for more information on the major dynamics that will impact firms next year.

A version of this article originally appeared on the Forrester blog.