The global impact of AI across industries

Norm Judah is chief technology officer, Microsoft Services.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already having a transformative impact across every industry. From helping employees at transportation companies predict arrival times or issues that may arise, to predicting toxins in grains of food. It’s helping scientists learn how to treat cancer more effectively and farmers are figuring out how to grow more food using fewer natural resources.

A 2017 study by PWC calculated global GDP will be 14 percent higher by 2030 as a result of AI adoption, contributing an additional $15.7 trillion to the global economy.

To dig deeper into the business impact AI can bring to specific industries like manufacturing, retail, health care, financial services and the public sector, Microsoft partnered with The Economist Intelligence Unit on Intelligent economies: AI’s transformation of industries and societies, a report that surveyed more than 400 senior executives working in various industries across eight markets: France, Germany, Mexico, Poland, South Africa, Thailand, the UK and the US. The goal of the study is to help educate business leaders on the significant potential of AI across industries and countries.

Key Takeaways

  • Businesses expect AI to have a positive impact on growth (90 percent), productivity (86 percent), innovation (84 percent) and job creation (69 percent) in their country and industry.
  • Nine out of 10 executives from around the world (94 percent) describe AI as important to solving their organizations’ strategic challenges.
  • More than one in four (27 percent) say their organizations have already incorporated AI into key processes and services, while another 46 percent have one or more AI pilot projects under way.
  • Despite often-expressed concerns about job displacement, respondents were broadly optimistic that AI will create new roles. Overall, nearly six out of 10 (59 percent) believe that AI will increase wages and 56 percent actually see a boost to the employment rate in their country or industry.
  • Surprisingly, developing economies are significantly more bullish about the positive effects of AI, with 83 percent of them expecting an increase, compared with just six out of ten respondents in advanced economies.

AI’s Impact on Industry

A common misnomer is that it takes a long time for AI to create an impact, but the reality is it can take a matter of weeks for an organization to see benefits. There is tremendous opportunity for AI to augment human abilities across industries while capitalizing on unique human capacities for creativity and agility – human characteristics that are difficult for computers to mimic.

Manufacturing

Top use cases are research and development (29.6 percent), predictive analytics (28.4 percent); and real time operations management (25.9 percent). A report last year from research company ARK suggests that by 2025 the price of industrial robots will drop by 65 percent. Naturally, this could cause an inflection point in the demand for robots across industries. For instance, ABB’s industrial robots, many that run on Microsoft Azure have created more than 200 solutions for manufacturers.

Health Care and Life Sciences

Top use cases are risk management and analytics (22.5 percent); social engagement (21.3 percent); and knowledge creation (21.3 percent). Eventually, advances in AI will leave the clinical workforce free to focus on and solve more challenging problems like high-complexity diagnostics. For example, Adaptive Technology is using AI to decode the immune system and prevent disease.

Public Sector

The public sector has particularly high levels of machine learning adoption (34 percent), perhaps because of its commitment to make smart cities cleaner and safer and to help municipalities predict levels of traffic, pollution and crime. Most respondents expect AI-driven innovation in their country and industry over the next five years to be led by the private sector (47 percent), though 41 percent indicate that they expect it to be distributed equally in the private and public sectors. For example, DataKind has a ‘Vision Zero’ initiative that uses AI to reduce traffic deaths and collisions in Bellevue, Washington.

Retail

Top use cases are predictive analytics (32.9 percent); andcustomer service (30.6 percent). For example, Lowe’s, a home improvement chain, worked with Fellow Robots to deploy LoweBots, five-foot-tall autonomous robots powered by Microsoft Azure that scan shelf inventory and assist store personnel with inventory data, metrics and shelf intelligence.

The CEO Is the Center of any AI Strategy

As Judson Althoff, our EVP of Worldwide Commercial Business outlined a few months ago and the study confirmed, the effectiveness of an AI strategy comes with risks unless CEOs approach AI as a strategic imperative. CEOs must champion the use of AI and get employee buy in. A strong partnership between the c-suite and the IT teams developing the technology is essential for increasing the use of AI from smaller projects to broad usage.

Surveyed executives from all included countries expect that five years from now they’ll be living in intelligent economies made up of smarter businesses. The leaders that will leapfrog their competition will be those that embrace AI, transform their operations, their markets, their industries, and—no less important—their work forces. Visit our Microsoft AI blog to learn about projects we’re working on and to read about how organizations are using AI to transform business.