2017: AI's Coming Out Party

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Artificial intelligence will be having a big coming out party in 2017. While there are plenty of opportunities in this space for workers, executives, investors and partners, not every company that uses the term "AI" in its marketing will become a serious winner in the field.

As advanced as AI is -- and I have seen some technology that would blow your socks off -- not every company is created equal. Some will be real winners early on, but most won't go much further than using the terminology in their marketing, so they can ride the next growth wave.

Still, the AI marketplace will change dramatically as it grows over the next several years. AI will continue to advance and mature. It will get better and do more.

That said, today is like the early days of the automotive industry a century ago, with the Ford Model T at the center of that universe. Now, a century later, we know the growth path that industry took -- but back then people were just giddy with excitement about what was new.

AI has been with us for decades -- from research and trials to fictional books and movies. Finally, the early generations of AI products are here, and the field is growing rapidly.

A growing number of companies are using AI in their advertising and marketing in a bid to attract early investors and media attention. Many others are being acquired by larger companies that want to be real players in the space tomorrow.

We must take every mention of AI with a grain of salt, but we also must realize this is how every giant industry is formed. The early days are often the best time to get into new industries.

There are plenty of early movers that are making early headway in the AI space. IBM has Watson. Apple has Siri and Google has its Assistant. Microsoft has Cortana, and Amazon has Alexa. Samsung has announced its plans to move into AI in 2017.

Many companies in other spaces also are going to be powerful players in AI: AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, Intel, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and many others. In fact, companies in every sector are moving rapidly toward AI. This is an incredibly powerful wave that will rewrite the business world in the next decade.

Early players have a competitive advantage, but when AI spreads widely enough, having it will no longer be a competitive advantage. It will become a simple cost of doing business. That's when every competitor in every sector will move rapidly into this arena.

The players that are knee-deep into AI technology today are shaping the course it will take going forward. It will stay on this early track for years, until it makes a major leap or transformation to the next level.

There are lessons to be learned from the smartphone industry. BlackBerry, Nokia and Motorola once led the space. Roughly a decade ago, Apple entered with the iPhone and Google followed with its Android operating system. They rapidly changed the entire industry. The number of apps available exploded from a few hundred to millions in a few short years.

Existing leaders were thrown off their saddle, and new leadership took over. That's what I expect to see with AI, when growth in this new sector takes off.

There are many different levels of AI -- from basic voice recognition, like Apple's Siri, to more advanced machine learning and deep learning, like IBM's Watson. Each is AI, but each functions within a completely different area. Some are simple and others are more complex. Considering these are the early days, just imagine what we have to look forward to.

AI -- along with the cloud, virtual reality, and many other technologies -- is going to be very important in transforming our world over the next decade. All are rapidly growing sectors, and they all will work together -- and with other industries, like wireless and telecom.

Of the many companies entering the AI space today, some are serious players, like IBM, and others are looking for a way to put a flag in the AI ground and prepare for tomorrow. Any way you slice it, AI is one of the most exciting new areas, and 2017 will be its coming out party.

E-Commerce Times columnist Jeff Kagan is a wireless analyst, telecom analyst, industry analyst, consultant and speaker who has been sharing his colorful perspectives on the changing industry for 25 years. Email him at [email protected]

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