When electricity was first introduced in the 19th century, many questioned the investment in it. Those that understood its value reaped the benefits of it, while those that didn’t lagged behind.

That is where the adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) currently stands. Many businesses have yet to realise its full potential and need to pick up on the transformational opportunities it offers early, or risk being disrupted.

In 1879, the world’s first electricity generation business, the California Electric Light Co., was launched in San Francisco. Exhibits were set up to demonstrate the value of electricity, including one electric light in a mechanics’ pavilion and another on top of a church.

During the following years and decades, some companies around the world leapt on board, adjusting their businesses and production models to fully incorporate the transformational power of electricity.

Others were slower in their uptake, using the new offering in some parts of their operations and sticking with the tried and true in others. Others saw no value in the new technology, eschewing change and preferring, instead, to stick with methods that had worked in the past.

The companies that suffered inertia were quickly despatched by those pivoting to adopt and adapt to the new technology. Businesses that made the effort to see around the next corner discovered entirely new opportunities and differentiators. They launched themselves onto exciting new pathways and eventually upgraded every part of their operations. Electricity, quite literally, gave them power.

Today, a similar revolution is taking place. Seismic shifts are being felt across industries as we head into the Fourth Industrial Revolution. But this time, the new technology changing the way the world works is AI. It won’t be long until, just like electricity, AI is a fundamental part of the fabric of our society.

AI is a means to an end


The recent Navigating The Fourth Industrial Revolution: Is All Change Good? report identified the attitudes towards, and outlook around, the impact of AI in Asia.

The results showed a lower level of trust around AI (90% of Singaporeans trust a human over a chatbot) but also a high level of positivity considering potential effects of AI on people’s future lives (61% of Singaporeans think AI will enable them to do a better or more interesting job).

Most interestingly, in Singapore and Hong Kong, respondents with higher levels of understanding of AI also had higher levels of trust in the technology. This flags an important step change that AI is on its way to broader adoption within society.


But adoption is not a matter of solely understanding how AI works; it’s also about realising the outcomes it can help achieve. This is the same with electricity. After all, very few of us know how electricity is produced, but we all understand its outcome and use it on a daily basis – be it for light, using a computer, or charging a mobile device.

"It won’t be long until, just like electricity, AI is a fundamental part of the fabric of our society."


So, the outcome of AI is that a customer never has to repeat themselves, a business knows what its customers want before the customers themselves do, and an employee no longer has to carry out menial tasks, freeing them up to focus on more customer-centric responsibilities. It also means the identification of new markets, the development of unique products and the segregation of jobs into specific and specialised functions, all heavily supported by AI.

Essentially, AI means businesses that want to see what’s around the next corner can do so, and they’ll be astounded by what they find.

Transforming a business with AI


Does a company need to completely change the way it works in order to exploit the power of AI? Of course not. In fact, that would never be something we’d recommend. The business has to take its time in order to figure out how AI can best contribute to its strategic goals, and staff need time to upskill, to work with and alongside such transformative technology.

Part of the Navigating The Fourth Industrial Revolution report showed that people prefer to talk to humans as opposed to chatbots. Some have argued that the service industry is ripe for automation, but if people still want to talk to humans, it becomes less about jobs disappearing and more about how you figure out which functions of jobs can be augmented with AI.

Once that is figured out, your human service agents develop new ‘super powers’ that are enabled through AI. The technology gives them a view of who each customer is in a holistic way. It informs the service agent of all of the interactions each specific customer has with the business. It offers an ability to predict what the customer’s sentiment is going to be and the key aspects that each customer will care about in terms of their satisfaction scores or their propensity to purchase, etc. Even more importantly, AI offers the customer service agent recommended actions that will produce the most positive outcome.

This is just a small sample of how AI might assist those in the customer service department. It will be just as transformative in the sales department, the marketing team or the finance office.

We’re beginning to see organisations experimenting in all of these fields, and they’re beginning to ask how they might do things differently in an AI-powered world.

Just like in the late 1800s when the California Electric Light Co. offered forward-thinking business people and entrepreneurs entirely new opportunities to leap ahead of their competitors, AI is doing the same. Those that begin working with the technology today will reap the rewards tomorrow. And history has shown what happens to those that don’t.

Download the Economic IU Report: Navigating The Fourth Industrial Revolution: Is All Change Good? to learn more about how the Fourth Industrial Revolution impacts organisational change.