16 years ago, when we began what is now ICUC Social, we believed that what we were doing was special. It was different. It was cleaning bad stuff off of the internet.

Little did we realize that what we were building was the seed of a business that would later employ, 16 years later, more than 600 people around the world, and that the company would be a leading player in a global industry. But that’s the thing about banking on the future: All you can do is prepare for it and be well-positioned take advantage of it. Where it goes, time will tell.

Today, we run ICUC with a firm hand on the present and an eye on the future. Anyone building a business based on what’s going on today, not what’s coming down tomorrow, risks being left behind.

It’s hard to believe that it was 20 years ago, in 1997, when UPS coined the phrase “moving at the speed of business.” The internet was a baby then and few of us really grasped its business potential, though we had an idea of where it might take us. But we couldn’t predict how fast times would change. Moving at the speed of business, indeed.

Public feedback and the sharing of content have been the bread and butter of ICUC’s moderating services since day one. As the internet has grown up,  the sharing of content has exploded. Didn’t like dinner? Tell the world! Had a great holiday? Brag about it. Found an off-beat eatery you hope stays alive so you can be a regular? Report it on Yelp! Hate how your new speakers sound? Give it one star and a rant.

For ICUC Social, this uptick in feedback and sharing online means massive growth in how much content our teams manage. These days, it seems we are looking at everything from the cleanliness of a major theme park to hot takes on hot drinks at a large coffee company, and that stream of content  never dries up.

The reality is, since 2006, the world’s internet usage has been growing by over 200 million people annually. Today, over 46% of the world’s 7.4 billion people have an internet presence. That’s why, since 2011, we’ve been using machine learning and a level of AI into our business, ever increasing the role algorithms play in helping us expedite our services so we’re faster, sharper, and more efficient in everything we do.

Wait. That term, “AI,” – Artificial Intelligence – is bandied about constantly now, isn’t it? What is AI, anyhow?

“Artificial intelligence” is basically the end of computers as glorified calculators that require operators, and the start of them becoming machines programmed to find information on their own, consider context of that information, and then act accordingly. Its their ability to learn and adapt.

Every robot you’ve ever seen in the movies, from C3PO to the Terminator, operates as “artificial intelligence.” Today’s AI is slowly taking behind-the-scenes control of our world – from smartphone helpers like Siri to Amazon’s Alexa, through to AI behaviors we never see first-hand, like security bots helping credit card companies clamp down on card fraud faster than “you” can buy a new stereo in Bangkok.

Whether you like it or not, AI is here to stay, and its role in our world grows daily. It’s not just helping business anymore, it’s helping your daily life too. Take, for example, the Roomba – both a vacuum and the terror of many dogs, and it’s also a great example of everyday at-home artificial intelligence. If you’re like me, your childhood “robot dream” was one that would clean your house and do your chores for you, freeing valuable time for playing outside or watching cartoons. The Roomba’s a good step in that “cleaning robot” direction. It uses AI to map your room and track where it’s been and what’s left to vacuum.

The key thing about AI, from the Roomba to credit card fraud, is that it is “teachable.”

This doesn’t mean operators need to sit in front of it and program new stuff all the time. Of course, that’s an option, but ideally it will learn from usage and patterns, and these will inform how it behaves in the future.

Let’s go back to that example of credit card fraud. If you only ever use your credit cards for dinners and travelling, you’re “teaching” the AI what your usage pattern is. Smart AI then scans your behaviour in real time, and if a fraudster suddenly, say, tries buying an expensive stereo on your credit card in Bangkok no less, the AI algorithm will go, “Whoa! That’s odd. I don’t think so!” The hope is the sketchy purchases will be stopped until humans at the credit card company’s fraud division can follow up and see if that’s a legit purchase.

That brilliant real-time reaction, and the potential for human follow-up, is what makes AI such a powerful tool for today’s business world. As humans, we have our limitations. Artificial intelligence has its limitations too.

That’s why AI and humans need to work together.

The use of AI as an ever-present buzzword simply emphasizes all that is wrong with how we interpret it and use it. Everything is artificial intelligence. But what if it was human-enabled artificial intelligence? We can never remove humans from the AI equation. We need to be there, overseeing it and adapting as required. As long as content continues to be created by humans, humans will ultimately manage said content.

There’s a lot of concern among some folks, too, that AI means jobs lost. If anything, there are jobs to be gained. With 3.5 billion people on the internet, I guarantee you that we can manage more content with AI instead of without it. Through a combination of humans and artificial intelligence, we are managing more content than ever before, thus allowing our humans to focus on the context of the content and assisting with machine learning. We are creating new jobs that focus on humans combing through the reams of sophisticated data gathered for producing actionable insights for our clients.

Simply put, the more AI we use means more people taking action on those results.

What we’re doing with AI is not replacing jobs, but instead, increasing our efficiency so we can do even more important work for our clients.

But now I’m getting ahead of myself.

In the next part of this four-part artificial intelligence series, I’ll tell you more about how we use AI at ICUC. We’re proud of our innovations and we’re constantly trying to stay ahead of the curve in the ever-changing demands of the online world today. I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

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