The terms “artificial intelligence” and “automation” are often used mutually. They are short-hand for robots and other machines that allow us to operate more efficiently and effectively — whether it is a mechanical construct piecing together a car or the signal that sets off the smoke alarm in an emergency. But there are some attractive differences between automated systems and AI machines.

Automation

Automated systems are everywhere. They are the reason local banks record your payments in a matter of seconds, the reason why businesses don’t have to copy-and-paste millions of personalized marketing emails to their customers. It’s what allows you to get your purchase shipped and delivered the same day within the 4h time slot.

Automation has a single purpose: To let machines perform repetitive, monotonous tasks or as some people say “to take the robot out a human”. This saves up time for people to focus on more important, creative tasks that require the personal touch and judgment. The end result is a more systematic, cost-effective business and a more productive workforce. 

Artificial intelligence

Tech leaders have been debating these two vastly different future scenarios with AI omnipresent. Artificial intelligence in a way that definitely goes down on the dystopian spectrum saying that “Robots and AI will be able to do everything better than human beings, creating the incredible risk that we face as a civilization”. Also, we can say that the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. Then we have strong and correct AI advocates who suggest that AI will help humans but does not control or intrude on their lives. That’s the whole point of AI: To create technologies that ably mimic what a human being can say, think and do, which naturally won’t be affected by natural fragility. And, just like most humans, that means AI is intensely bad at simply following orders. That’s not what it’s designed to do; it’s designed to constantly seek patterns (like humans), learn from experience (like humans) and self-select the appropriate responses in situations based on that (like humans). 

So, what we are actually dealing with here is not a simple model of me or you. It is about creating a system that is more powerful than we can imagine.

The real difference between automation and AI

What drives both automated systems and AI is the same thing that drives businesses: data. Automated machines collate data; AI systems “understand” it. A study by ServiceNow put the impact of automation in its most basic terms: “Companies with more than 20% revenue growth are 61% automated on average. Companies with flat or obstructive growth are only 35% automated.” Of course, that depends on many different factors, including the usual cross-section of benefits associated with automation — increased productivity, better business efficiency, and employees able to gravely focus on issues like company expansion. But it’s also down to data. Because automated machines chew on data the way football managers chew gum: relentlessly and obsessively. That allows companies to make even smarter business decisions than ever before. No surprise, then, that our potential to process and access a large amount of data is already altering the way we do business. We are looking at two very different systems that perfectly complement each other. Just imagine how much more powerful we can become as individuals, as businesses, as a species, by coupling machines capable of automatically collecting incredible amounts of data with systems that can intelligently make sense of that information.

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