In business, if you’re not ahead of your competition, you’re behind. This has been true ever since the Industrial Revolution. Early adopters of technology generally become industry leaders. That’s certainly how it worked at ICUC, because here we are, 16 years later, setting global standards for internet moderation and consumer listening.

Today, we’re proud to use human-led artificial intelligence to service our clients and keep them on the cutting edge of consumer feedback and customer response.

To get here, we had to understand what technology could do for us, then gamble on it. Now, that same dilemma faces businesses in all kinds of industries: What’s technology offering, and how much should be invested in betting on it?

Recently, we asked our team to perform a “state of the union” study with a artificial intelligence survey. What was the media saying about AI? How often was AI mentioned? What did businesses think about AI? How soon did companies feel AI would start affecting their business, especially if they didn’t opt in? How could AI benefit them? To what extent?

The results taught us the public and business worlds sit on the cusp of accepting that AI will be necessary in all our lives – from our homes through to offices, retail locations, and factories, and to great extents.

It seems we’re only now realizing the scope of possibility in AI, and it’ll take more understanding, and imagination too, before businesses go big on investing in it. 

So, who did the artificial intelligence survey and what did it reveal?

Our electronic opt-in artificial intelligence survey of American companies was performed across five industries in companies with a minimum of 100 employees. Those industries included retail, dining, brand agencies, consumer-packaged goods, and hospitality. Our respondents were director-level professionals in social media, marketing, and digital divisions. 

We asked that target audience, on a scale of one to ten, with ten being “extremely important” or “extremely likely,” several artificial intelligence survey questions.

Up first was how important they felt it was to find AI solutions in their businesses right now. The answer? A nearly even split, at an average of 5.5, or “somewhat important.” Reading between the lines, it seems that if an AI solution to their needs presented itself, it wouldn’t be shunned, but most aren’t hunting for one.

When further asked how they felt AI might impact their business today, responses came in at an average of 6/10 for impact. That’s to say they feel it’d impact things, but wouldn’t be a game-changer.

Nearly 68% of respondents to the artificial intelligence survey said they were not currently using AI in their business in any way. But, of those who said artificial intelligence was at work in their companies, nearly 60% said AI was employed for marketing purposes, and 45% have it tasked to data processing.

When we asked whether AI incorporated into social media management is considered a “feature” or a “benefit,” 60% said they felt it’d be both. Just 25% felt it would be beneficial for social media management, but not a “feature”. In what we thought was good news for ICUC, only 3% of respondents felt AI would be “undesirable” or detrimental in social media practices.

But did they think AI could positively affect their business right here, right now? Well, that was pretty split, with the average response being about a 6 out 10.

We asked our artificial intelligence survey-takers if artificial intelligence is already affecting their business, or when they felt that impact might come. We were told:

  • 20% of those asked feel AI’s already hitting home for them
  • 15% expect that impact to come in the next 12 months, but another 33% say that, within two years, they’ll be forced to confront a day-to-day effect of AI in their industry
  • Surprisingly, only 8% of those surveyed felt AI’s impact would be more than 5 years away

What this tells us is that that 92% of those in large-scale businesses in our target industries feel that addressing artificial intelligence needs to be a part of their current five-year plan. The artificial intelligence survey says the day is fast coming where all five of these industries will need AI to improve their performance across all digital and social media divisions.

The Public Perspective: AI by the Numbers

We also turned our eye to the web to look at public consciousness about AI. Here’s some of what we learned with the artificial intelligence survey.

Shockingly, in just a year, public awareness and discussion of AI skyrocketed. From the first quarter of 2016 to the first quarter of 2017, mentions of AI have literally doubled. Furthermore, awareness of machine learning has shot up considerably too. Last year, only 2% of AI mentions included “machine learning,” but it presented in more than 11% of this year’s AI conversations.

In fact, when scouring search patterns on browsers, we found that, in early 2015, it was basically a three-way tie for searches on:

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Machine Learning
  • The Internet of Things

But “the internet of things” interest has held nearly steady in the two years since. Artificial intelligence searches have doubled, but machine learning is the runaway winner with triple the searches since just two years ago, demonstrating that both interest and knowledge in machine learning are growing at a rapid pace.

Another surprise for us were the gender and age divides on AI. Over two-thirds of public mentions of artificial intelligence were made by men, and, more than 85% of the time, by people over the age of 35.

When it came to emotional sentiment about artificial intelligence, positive and negative reactions were almost deadlocked, but a whopping 74% were neutral on AI. When those sentiments were analyzed more deeply, the most prevalent emotion was joy, present in 39% of comments, but second-strongest was anger, registering 28% of the feedback.

Geographically, interest in artificial intelligence is biggest in states with strong political ties or vibrant tech industries. The top per capita region for social media AI mentions was, in fact, the District of Columbia. Next up? Massachusetts, New York, and California, in that order. But in terms of pure volume of mentions, California, thanks to its huge population, commanded 26% total of the dialogue on artificial intelligence.

Turning to brands in the public eye, Google’s DeepMind and its more than 1,000 applications of artificial intelligence at work throughout its brands make Google the leading AI brand mention. In fact, Google netted 2.5 times the mentions of its nearest competitor, Microsoft. Mentions scaled down from there. Apple received half those of Microsoft, and Tesla was referred to just half as often as Apple.

What We’re Reading: AI in the News

Tesla’s mentions are misleading, though, because the company is just one of many the brainchilds spawned by visionary Elon Musk, a daily newsmaker himself. A recent hot AI story had Elon Musk speaking about Neuralink, his cutting-edge move to complement the human brain with the power of AI. Musk has said that recent exponential increases in artificial intelligence abilities mean that humans must find a way of working intricately with AI or we’ll become irrelevant. Naturally, being the leading entrepreneur behind the solar-energy boom, maker of Tesla Motors, and founder of SpaceX, Musk hopes to be the first to break the brain-computer barrier.

Other stories that have fascinated the public in recent months include:

  • News of the latest improvements to Apple’s popular “Siri” iPhone AI assistant, always a popular AI news contender
  • A report about an AI’s potential impact on sorting recycling (and the cost-prohibitive realities that say this isn’t a “thing” that’ll be common for a bit) 
  • Making the rounds again was a dire 2015 warning from the genius trio of Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking, and Elon Musk, on the dangers of AI development and the potential for machine autonomy, or the long-imagined “rise of robots” against humanity
  • An account of a deep-learning poker-playing AI called “Deep Stack” that beat professional gamblers in Texas Hold’em, by studying past poker games and their probabilities, allowing Deep Stack to outplay human intuition and even beat bluffing
  • An announcement of Google’s DeepMind AI division developing “Watch, Attend, Spell,” an AI program capable of watching silent speech and nailing, with 50% accuracy, the words spoken in a lip-reading challenge that kept pro lip-readers hobbled with an unimpressive 12% accuracy

The variety in these stories commanding public interest tell us people are intrigued by AI from a global, big-picture perspective right down to the “what’s in it for me” angle with personal smartphones. They’re starting to understand widespread implications (and benefits) of a world powered by AI, and there is growing awareness of potential dangers, but also increased willingness to use AI to both simplify and improve day-to-day lives.

From big business seeing AI’s impact less than five years away through to public discourse on AI doubling on social media in just a year, there’s only one conclusion we need to infer: Artificial intelligence in no longer the realm of science fiction, nor that of nerds and geeks.

If you’re not using AI to help you get ahead in business, why not? Listen to the numbers, listen to the people, and listen to us. We’ll help you take AI from being an abstract idea to using it to grow your bottom line.

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