The Global Trend Study released recently by TCS has a lot to say about the role of AI in our near future. After a very comprehensive poll of executives across 13 global industry sectors, it’s unsurprising to me that 84% of companies see AI as “essential” to competitiveness with every second executive describing the technology as “transformative.”

That transformation is already being witnessed in IT departments across the world where AI’s ability to strengthen security and automate has already proved its worth in investment terms. Interestingly though, the real watershed for AI according to respondents is three short years away when almost a third of companies believe AI will make significant inroads into functions like sales, marketing and customer service. Respondents also saw AI transforming corporate functions like HR and finance.

AI is slowly integrating itself into the fabric of the working world.

In reality, in certain industries like insurance AI is already taking its place in the form of chat bots responding to customer inquiries and even doing the job of journalists. Autonomous vehicles are already on the roads. What is clear, however, is that this is not an overnight revolution but rather an incremental transformation that will lead to profound changes in the working world we have become used to.

It is, however, not the brave new world of humans made obsolete by intelligent machines. The study estimates net reductions in the functions I mentioned of between 4% and 7% by 2020. Factored against a fast-aging demographic in many western countries, that might be seen as the means to keep the wheels of industry spinning against the background of a shrinking workforce.

The study shows that those early adopter companies who made the greatest AI-related revenue improvements and cost reductions spent five times more on the technology than the companies with the lowest AI-related revenue and cost improvements. And the numbers are not small: North American companies were the leading investors in AI in 2015, with an average per-company spend of $80 million, followed by Europe with $73 million, Asia-Pacific with $55 million and Latin America with $51 million.

Not only this, but the investment will also have positive effects on employment of human employment: companies with the greatest financial improvements from AI investments expect three times as many new AI-related roles by 2020 as compared to companies with the smallest improvements. Naturally enough these are specialist roles but the statistic reinforces the point that humans are still a very relevant factor in the work equation.

AI is slowly integrating itself into the fabric of the working world. In near time it will help employees be more productive and create new work and services that were not possible in the past. This is the future as our own Chief Technology Officer K Ananth Krishnan said: “Given the increasing digital disruption across every industry and the public sector, AI should become a key and integrated component of an organization’s strategy.”

What we see as AI’s role today in automation and security will ultimately evolve into even more complex cognitive systems that continually learn and make reliable and safe decisions based on masses of data. Far from being a vision of a more precarious world threatened by intelligent robots, I see one where technology brings a new level of certainty and illuminates our path forwards.