How Past Innovations
Inform the Future Impact of AI

Managing Partner, ThinkBridge


Article Highlights:

  • A look back at business innovations that led to AI
  • Why AI matters to businesses today
  • Looking ahead at the impact of AI how businesses run

rtificial intelligence has a problem. It’s been hyped up relentlessly by top technology companies, but its capabilities aren’t clearly defined and are often exaggerated. Naturally, the hype is met with some resistance and even more confusion. Will AI replace me? Is AI smarter than me?

If you think about it, AI is part of a natural progression, the next development that will help us humans do what we do – only better.

It’s time to start level setting about the impact artificial intelligence will have on your business strategy in the coming years. AI is part of a natural progression, the next development that will help us humans do what we do – only better.

Back in the 1960s, another revolutionary idea came to fruition in the form of the electronic calculator. Before then, calculations had to be made with pencil and paper, taking much more time than punching in some numbers and receiving an answer. This technological advancement made calculations more efficient and cost effective. Instead of hiring a team of accountants, a business could hire one or two and get the same amount of work done using a calculator.

In the 1980s, organizations grew more sophisticated and demanded more of their data. In order to perform more advanced analyses, accountants would manually recalculate formulas when a variable changed. Typically, this was done on sheets of paper and often, one sheet of paper was not enough. This became far too cumbersome, and technology came to the rescue once again with the development of the electronic spreadsheet.

The modern day spreadsheet revolutionized the way work was done, but it also unsettled many at first. Electronic spreadsheets challenged the status quo. A 1984 article pausits the impact this technology had to transform business. As Planet Money host, David Kestenbaum, explains, the article served as a warning, “the spreadsheet is a tool, and it is also a worldview – reality by the numbers.” It was revolutionary 35 years ago, but now, we can’t imagine life without it.

Ultimately, spreadsheets enabled companies to focus on more crucial calculations, like what-if analysis and price elasticity. The days of manual math are long gone, and employees in financial roles can contribute much more to their organizations when empowered by technology.

Nowadays, businesses of all sizes continue to become more sophisticated, but at a cost. It’s crucial to innovate not just your products, but the internal processes that enable your success. When technology doesn’t empower a company to iterate and grow quickly, the creation of cottage industries (or departments that serve a niche purpose) become unavoidable. Their purpose is to triage the repetitive and cumbersome yet necessary tasks to help the company stay afloat.

Some of these departments are dedicated to supporting legacy systems that require manual data entry or transactional processing. Hiring people to fill these roles and maintain old, clunky systems drives up operating costs quickly. Outdated processes slow you down. That time and money is better spent on software or services that provide more value.  Once again, there’s a need for technology to streamline processes in a cost effective and time efficient way.

Looking Ahead

AI adoption is in its early stages now and the speculation surrounding it is much like the early days of electronic spreadsheets. But there’s potential for intelligent systems to drive business forward just like innovations of the past. Machine learning algorithms, the foundation of true AI, provide us with new ways to solve the ever-evolving challenges we encounter.

AI automates repetitive tasks and provides people with more accurate insights and valuable time to focus on more meaningful work. It’s most effective when applied to processes like classification and prediction.

Where Does AI Create the Greatest Efficiencies?

Information Technology

Information Technology

Free employees from repetitive grunt work and allow them to focus on larger issues.

Customer Service

Customer Service

Chatbots simulate human interaction via an audible or textual method.



Big data and machine learning can quickly identify any inefficiencies in your processes.

For instance, intelligent systems can detect public sentiment about your brand by analyzing language posted in comments on your website or replies to marketing emails. Or, it can boost finance teams by automating transaction processing and forecasting trends and anomalies with better accuracy. Industries like manufacturing and healthcare have seen huge benefits to AI already. Computer vision can replace barcode scanning in warehouses and patient data is recorded and leveraged to predict health conditions.

Every industry and every use case is different, of course. But with the right tools and maybe some expert advice, AI can be an asset, not a threat to business. Someday, we’ll look back on all the hype AI generated and wonder why we were so worried. The opportunities this technology can provide us – from time and money saved to creating new skills and expertise – won’t just change, but improve how every organization operates and what they produce.

The Future of IT

AI, Machine Learning, Big Data, NLP, and Predictive Analytics

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