TDWI Upside - Where Data Means Business

Our Robot Overlords Are Coming -- Soon

So-called smart machines will be used in nearly one-third of large enterprises by 2021. That's tantamount to mainstream adoption.

First came the algorithms, decision trees, and inferencing engines. Then came the smart machines.

So-called smart machines will arrive no later than 2021, according to Gartner, which predicts that smart machines will be used in nearly one-third (30 percent) of large enterprises by then.

That's tantamount to mainstream adoption.

What's a Smart Machine?

"The use of smart machines by enterprises can be transformative and disruptive," said Gartner research vice president Susan Tan in a prepared release. "Smart machines will profoundly change the way work is done and how value is created. From dynamic pricing models and fraud detection to predictive policing and robotics, smart machines have broad applicability in all industries."

First things first: what's a smart machine? According to Gartner, "smart" technologies include cognitive computing, artificial intelligence (AI), intelligent automation, machine learning, and deep learning. That's a pretty big umbrella, as the market watcher itself acknowledges. Is it so big as to be vague or unhelpful? After all, aren't a substantial number -- perhaps even a majority -- of companies already using machine learning and intelligent automation technologies today?

Gartner doesn't address this issue. In an 2016 article published in the MIT Sloan Management Review, however, coauthors H. James Wilson, Narendra Mulani, and Allan Altar note that 40 percent of large enterprises are already using machine learning technologies to support their sales and marketing efforts.

Their article, "Sales Gets a Machine-Learning Makeover," cited data from an Accenture Institute for High Performance survey of enterprises with $500 million or more in annual revenue. More than three-quarters (76 percent) of the respondents said they plan to use machine learning to promote sales growth. If machine learning is, in fact, one of several "smart" technologies, smart machines are here and more or less mainstream already.

Spending on Smart Technologies Poised to Explode

In 2016, Gartner extimates enterprises spent just under half a billion dollars ($451 million) on consulting and system integration-related smart machine services. By 2021, that figure is expected to increase to almost $29 billion. That's a 6,330 percent increase, if you're counting.

Again, "smart machines" is a big umbrella. Gartner's confident, however, that a majority of smart technologies will be adopted by 2025, with most of that uptake occurring between 2020 and 2025.

In other words, our robot overlords are coming. Over the next decade, Gartner says, companies of all sizes will invest in smart technologies. In all likelihood, they'll go after the low-hanging fruit (machine learning, intelligent automation) before targeting deep learning, cognitive computing, and full-fledged AI. By 2026, businesses will be critically dependent on machine intelligence.

At this point, we don't know whether that's going to be a good or a bad thing.

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