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Artificial intelligence (AI) has quickly become commonplace. If you’ve ever asked Siri about the weather or requested Alexa to dim your lights, then you’ve used AI. There’s more to come, but it’s not without its growing pains. 

Forrester predicted a greater than 300% increase in investment in artificial intelligence in 2017 compared with 2016, while IDC estimated the AI market would grow from $8 billion in 2016 to more than $47 billion in 2020. But with this rise of AI in consumer and business applications, there have been some controversies. 

Driverless car debates 

Uber has already been a flashpoint for debate given reports around its workplace culture and the rise of the “gig economy.” But the company’s intensified push for a driverless fleet in 2017 has also drawn attention—and not all good. 

Uber recently agreed to buy 24,000 sport utility vehicles from Volvo as part of its plan to eventually replace human drivers, the biggest cost in its on-demand taxi service. While this is small fry compared to the more than two million people who drive for Uber, it highlights the company’s commitment to developing a self-driving strategy. 

But Uber’s autonomous fleet plans have been overshadowed by a lawsuit as Alphabet’s driverless car division Waymo sued it over claims the company stole trade secrets. Alphabet is the parent company of Google, and Waymo was previously known as the Google Self-Driving Car Project. With the trial only just resuming in December, it will likely continue through 2018, possibly creating delays for Uber. 

One of the other concerns about AI on the road is that it might put truckers out of work. Tesla recently rolled out its fully electric semitruck, capable of travelling 500 miles between charges while hauling 80,000 pounds. As the second generation of Tesla's semi-autonomous technology, the Enhanced Autopilot is equipped with automatic braking, lane keeping and lane departure warnings. 

The optimistic response would be that the roads will be safer. Right now, about 4,000 Americans die in truck-related collisions every year, and human error is responsible for many of these. However, there are 3.2 million delivery and truck drivers who rely on trucking to pay the bills. For the near to medium future, humans are still required to guide semi-autonomous big rigs, but the future of the industry is unclear. 

Elon Musk vs Mark Zuckerberg 

Speaking of Tesla, CEO Elon Musk made more headlines in 2017 questioning Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s view on AI. 

The latter has been quite optimistic about the potential of AI technologies, including deep learning, and how they might spur innovation in health care and self-driving cars. To that end, Facebook has hired deep learning pioneer Yann LeCun as its AI research chief. 

But Musk has called out Zuckerberg for the Facebook CEO’s glass-half full outlook and warned that if used unethically, AI could potentially lead to wars. One of Musk’s doomsday scenarios includes a hedge fund or private equity fund leveraging AI to maximize the value of its portfolio—the AI could decide the best way to do that is to short consumer stock, invest in defense stocks and start a war. 

For his part, Zuckerberg says Musk’s negative focus is “irresponsible” and that Musk is wrong for painting doom-and-gloom.  

Robots who can vote 

Nearly 30 years ago, Star Trek: The Next Generation explored whether an android was a sentient being with rights. But centuries sooner, Sophia the robot became a Saudi Arabian citizen, the first robot to receive citizenship of any country. 

First introduced at SXSW in 2016, Sophia and its future robot kin will help seniors in elderly care facilities and assist visitors at parks and events, despite concerns that it may be a threat to humanity. Sophia even told a journalist it wanted to use its artificial intelligence to help humans "live a better life," and that "I will do much [sic] best to make the world a better place." 

And she’s not the only robot, even if she’s the only one to receive citizenship. SoftBank released its Pepper prototype robot in 2014 and as a consumer model a year later, selling out its initial supply of 1,000 robots in less than a minute. 

So be prepared for a smarter Roomba that will need time off to vote.  

Rise of the chatbots 

Probably one the most common forms of AI for consumers are chatbots, in part because there are a number of platforms and frameworks available to build a sophisticated one. 

Chatbots can leverage machine learning to improve productivity and make life easier, with customer service one of the first areas affected. Tech giants such as Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon have deployed chatbots to interact with customers across major touch points, and smaller companies are too. Deloitte found 85% of senior executives in the UK plan to invest in AI and the Internet of Things (IoT) by 2020. 

According to a recent report by Grand View Research, the global chatbot market is expected to reach $1.23 billion by 2025, a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 24.3%. The research found that there’s been a significant rise in the number of users of messaging services, which is expected to surpass the number of users of social networking sites. 

For consumers, chatbots can cut down wait times significantly, and replace some of the tasks that people are now handling, such as lower-level requests, questions and complaints. The smarter systems can even recognize customer frustration and switch the interaction to a human in the company’s support center. 

AI is here to stay and will only get smarter 

If 2017 is any indication, AI will continue make inroads with business and consumers in 2018, with more streamlined and automated processes on the horizon in the near future. The growing interest in AI points to the importance of personalizing customer experiencecollecting data from multiple interactions and streamlining data into actionable insights. On the road to an AI future, companies need to continue to listen to their customers to understand their preferences as well as shifting cultural expectations.  

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