Breaking out of AI jail

Overcoming the barriers to AI

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Ian Hawkins

Earlier this year, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Kahn, commissioned a study that would find the best ways to engage with the AI community and inform policy with a view to helping the city become a global hub for the emerging technology.

Surrounded by the uncertainty of Brexit, evolving security matters, the vicissitudes of the financial markets and getting the trains to run on time, Kahn has placed a bet on the one thing that seems inevitable: the dominance of the Artificial Intelligence industry.  

‘Artificial Intelligence has the potential to transform almost every industry across the capital.London is in a strong position in the data economy and is already home to innovative, fast-growing companies like Deepmind, CityMapper and Satalia… London has a tremendous opportunity to build a world-class AI hub which serves a range of industries – from healthcare to finance to law – and which also helps build the AI-driven economy of the future in a way that works for all Londoners.’
Mayor Sadiq Kahn

Fine words, but politicians are great at playing with other people’s money; how about the business owner who is making the decision about whether or not to make the leap into using AI for themselves? There are four major barriers to AI – the four walls of a prison cell. And in order to get through them, you’re going to have to tackle each one.


Let’s tackle the toughest wall head-on. Money is finite and RoI is king. When you know that implementing AI will take up a sizeable chunk of your company’s resources it’s a fair question to ask: is it worth it?

Before you throw money at technology, it’s important to understand that you won’t wake up the day after switch-on to a transformed business; AI only becomes truly valuable after learning and processing large volumes of data. So before your bright and shiny new AI comes in, your legacy systems need to be in order: the infrastructure must be in place to facilitate and coherently store large volumes of company-specific data.

AI compatible infrastructure will need to be agile, flexible, and scalable and have enough processing power to accommodate huge volumes of data. One solution is offered by cloud-based services, an attractive proposition to businesses that need the power of AI on the move – and any business that wants to avoid the costs of bringing in new servers and powerful processors.

One of the appealing aspects of AI is that it is generally scaleable: many businesses have found that they can start with a relatively small investment (e.g. the automation of administrative back-office tasks), a ‘suck it and see’ approach that will demonstrate the advantages of the technology and work as a pilot scheme for rollout into other areas of your business strategy.  

As with all investments, know what you are getting into; it shouldn’t just be a case of seeing the headlines and jumping on the bandwagon. Specificity is your friend: don’t find a way to use AI when you could be using AI to solve a problem. Whether it’s optimizing response times or saving employee hours, determine what your goal is and build a strategy around it.


As with any change, prepare for pushback. If you don’t believe that AI will destroy jobs, the people in your business will almost certainly disagree with you.

The likelihood is that AI will evolve the job market, providing more opportunities for employees to focus on the complex aspects of their job that requires a human touch. AI will handle the repetitive and routine process that often eats up portions of the working day.

This change requires a conversation on a cultural and leadership level. A culture that promotes experimentation and the strategies of smaller businesses will result in a more dynamic and scaleable environment that leverages data from all of their process silos.

The lure of new technology is always exciting to leadership – but to get people on board, you have to make sure the old-fashioned evergreen rules of change management and leadership are adhered to make the new regime stick.


On the subject of people, talent is the third wall between you and the freedom of AI. AI technology is complex, and needs the right people to help facilitate changes and capitalise on opportunities.

Data scientists can be the bridge between all of your departments and the AI. They will let your business know what problems can be solved by using AI, and the medium in which they thrive is big data.  

Big data has come of age: what used to be hype is now an everyday reality as more businesses have realised that data in all forms and sizes is fundamental to making the best possible business decisions. AI is powerful enough to make use of unstructured data – but again, it is the leaders’ understanding of the importance of data and algorithms helps them make better use of the tools at their disposal.

AI has such potential, you need to have the talent in place who know how to work with the technology – not against it, or in spite of it.


The final obstacle towards change is the leadership. It is pivotal that they recognise artificial intelligence as a vehicle for positive change.

Many business leaders are unsure how AI fits into their business model. Implementing AI can seem like a monolithic prospect, and one that many companies may be unable – or unwilling – to begin tackling. 

In a study by The Boston Consulting Group, it was found that 85% of executives believe AI will greatly change the face of business, yet, only one in five businesses had taken the plunge and adopted AI.

So, why the lack of enthusiasm?  

It’s a matter of perspective. The future is going to be dictated by developments in AI technology. At present, AI is seen as something that needs to be broken into. In this model, the status quo is a prison that needs to be broken out of – or businesses risk being left behind.

Beyond the walls

The opportunities offered by AI are huge and it’s already too late to be considered an early adopter:

Reach out to your audience with cognitive engagement in the shape of chatbots, personalised recommendation system and FAQ’s. The obvious benefit of cognitive engagement technology is 24/7 customer service, but it also achieves this with natural language, meaning that customers won’t have to adapt to a robot.

Understand your customers better than ever before with cognitive insights that use an analysis of data to discover insights and trends. With cognitive insights technology, you’ll have the predictive power to make informed decisions and the ability to jump on trends before they happen.

Transform your processes across the organization: from the biggest companies in the world - Google, Amazon, IBM, Facebook and Spotify are just a few of the businesses that rely on AI – to the smallest start ups, AI has the potential to completely transform the processes of a business with a range of solutions for customer services, human resources, decision-making, administration and more.

Outside the AI cell, the rewards are massive: better customer engagement, scaleability, and more responsive actions to meet your customers’ needs.

If you’re going to grow as a business, you’re going to have to break out of that cell.

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