Since the Industrial Revolution at the end of the 18th Century, the technological advancement of the human race has been phenomenal. The innovation that has occurred has allowed humans to go faster than ever before, put men on the moon and nowadays communicate with one another instantaneously, regardless of time and location.

This continuous technological development has resulted in a data explosion, doubling the amount of data year on year. A recent study by IDC found that by 2025 the global datasphere will grow to 163 zettabytes (that’s a trillion gigabytes!). Or to put it another way, 10 times the 16.1ZB of data generated in 2016. IDC believes that nearly 20 per cent of this data will be critical to our daily lives and nearly 10 per cent of that will be ‘hypercritical’.

In this vast data ocean how then can humans digest, let alone draw conclusions, and use the information which is supposedly ‘hyper-critical’ to understand how public services operate, how our government makes decisions and how our businesses grow in the digital economy?

Enter Artificial Intelligence (AI) to centre stage. It has started to transform the business world and is perhaps the only way these vast amounts of data can be harnessed in any meaningful way. At TCS, our recent Global Trend Study into AI found that over half of European business leaders see AI as being “transformative” and say it will be “important” or “highly important” to remaining competitive in 2020.

So how can we better define the opportunity and map a pathway forward for the European business community?

Extending the investment horizon

Our wide ranging study found that European businesses invested on average $80 million in AI and robotics, more than any other region globally. But while the average investment seems encouraging at face value, the median only reached $3 million. The frontrunners of the European business world seem to be seizing the opportunity, while smaller companies risk being left behind.

When AI is set to have such a profound impact on business performance, this has to be a concern. After all, the companies that realised the greatest AI-related revenue improvements in our study spent five times more on the technology than the companies with the lowest AI-related revenue.

Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions is around cost. Like all enterprise technology, it is often the knock on impact where the greatest benefits can be found – the ability to be more competitive or fulfil orders more quickly and operate more efficiently. The benefit does not always manifest in the immediate short term, but is felt in the medium to long term, sometimes in ways that can’t be predicted.

AI is able to not only carry out tasks that were previously unable to be achieved by computers, it is adaptable to new, external influences. It will continue to be up to date with current technology advancement far longer than previous legacy systems. Although the cost might be significant at the outset, especially to smaller enterprises, the overall gains are incomparable.

One of the world’s leading research companies recently announced that by implementing AI it had saved 18,000 hours a month.  This is a significant saving for a company of its size, and means it saves an equivalent of 100 salaries on average every year.  It can then reinvest that additional capital back into the business, enabling its employees to pursue new and innovative business lines, rather than be bogged down by mundane tasks.

But are the robots coming for our jobs?

As for the ongoing debate regarding AI’s impact on jobs, there’s been an understandable concern in some quarters about the impact of the new technology. But the fears aren’t borne out by the data and many business leaders see AI as leading to a major jobs boost.

In our recent study business leaders estimated net reductions in each function by 2020 of between 4% and 7%. However, companies with the biggest revenue and cost improvements from AI saw the need for at least three times as many new jobs in each function in the same timeframe.

As companies begin to gain a better understanding of AI’s application for business, they will realise the significant impact of this transformative force that I believe can only be good news for employees and jobs. Take the insurance sector, for instance. The industry has suffered from legacy and redundant IT infrastructure. These systems, no matter how recently they were installed, are constantly under threat from individuals trying to defraud businesses because they typically require manual updating.

Until recently insurers were spending the majority of their time analysing data, looking for abnormalities and fraud signals. But with AI, machines are able to analyse and identify fraudulent automatically, allowing insurers to turn to more customer facing roles and improve the speed at which they deal with customer requests: The higher value roles that are more rewarding and more valuable.

This is just one small example of what’s happening now, and it’s my view that the introduction of AI will only lead to further developments of this kind. So rather than job displacement employees will continue to move towards more meaningful work, with mundane tasks accomplished more efficiently and accurately by intelligent machines. This transformation of roles will result in employees no longer being simply doers of work, but creators and curators of knowledge, where they can focus on tasks that require innovation and emotive skills.

The cultural foundations for AI’s potential to be realised

If a company is made up of disjointed, unhappy and unmotivated individuals it will not achieve the goals it sets itself. Tech can’t solve deep rooted issue like this. But on the flip side a positive, inclusive culture that is driven from the top can enable businesses to grow and develop.

With regards to technology and AI, this is absolutely critical. If employees, partners and customers understand the vision for a business and the journey they are on together, then the transition to AI adoption is far more successful. People have to understand that AI is a route to more exciting roles and responsibilities rather than a change that will displace jobs.

This leadership also entails a cultural transformation. For employees to gain the most from the new insights that AI’s cognitive abilities offer, building trust in what AI is advising them to do is vital. The tools need to be seen as partners rather than supplementary if their value is to be truly realised.

How does a three day weekend sound or a three hour working day?

While not the motivating factor behind AI innovation as such, it’s important that we keep in mind that technology has by and large led to huge improvements in quality of life.

Rather than job displacement employees will continue to move towards more meaningful work.

After all employees have been utilising technology for decades and these advancements have meant the average working week has continued to drop as technology takes on more roles.

Of course the goal isn’t to make our roles redundant, but freeing humans up from mundane tasks will, I’m sure, lead our insatiably creative minds to land on new innovations, new inventions and ways of creating value.

The good news is that Europe is uniquely placed because it has the foundations of a robust digital economy and infrastructure, enabling innovation to flourish. Investment in AI across the region is already high by global standards and I for one am truly excited for what the future holds.