This post originally appeared on Forbes.
We’re unofficially past the “Happy New Year” stage of 2017; that new year smell has almost entirely worn off, people are back from their sunny vacations in the Caribbean, and many are hard at work.
A lot of enterprise tech trends have been predicted to establish themselves this year, but none is as buzzy as artificial intelligence. It has been on the horizon for some time, but 2017 is poised to be the first time that bots at work are natural parts of our everyday workflow.
Don’t be mistaken, AI has a ways to go, and could accelerate at an unpredictable pace as bots gather more data. But people’s hesitancy about committing to bots at work, and questions around the effectiveness of these tools, will gradually melt away.
With this theme in mind, let’s take a look at what some B2B leaders predict for the future of work in 2017:
Matthew King, Customer Engagement Consultant at Microsoft
“Artificial intelligence breakthroughs are occurring at a rate which will certainly result in significant swaths of both blue and white collar workers across the globe facing the risk of automation. Even professions like sales, which tout the importance of human-to-human connection, are facing the prospect of first being assisted by, and eventually completely replaced by machine intelligence. As a society we must fundamentally re-imagine what work means to us, what our purpose on this planet is, and how to provide for people in an increasingly stratified world. The gains of efficiency improvements mean greater profits for the owners of capital and greater poverty for those who lose their ability to trade labor and skills for wages. We owe it to ourselves to think through how we should adapt as individuals and as a society to the ascendance of hyper-efficient, hyper-intelligent machines.”
Dennis R. Mortensen, CEO and Founder of x.ai
“We will see less hype around virtual personal assistants in 2017, but also, and this is the important part, less stigma! People will begin to get a sense of the real world applications of intelligent agents and the AI that powers them. Given these agents will look and feel mundane compared to the AI’s and robots depicted by Hollywood, we’ll see fewer silly and cartoonish accounts of robots taking over the world and eliminating humanity.”
Ceci Stallsmith, Platform Marketing at Slack
“You’ll have a small army of bots to help you do your job. As businesses move from email to messaging, all of the software you use for work will connect with the most pervasive for-work messaging products. As every business and startup went mobile in 2011, bots are the next major trend. As Mailbox, Sunrise Calendar, and other mobile-first productivity apps rose up, there will be a trend in hot bot for-work companies rising up in 2017. The big question lies in how intelligent these little helpers need to be: do bots need to understand your every request? Will they be able to intelligently gather your needs, or will we be happy with their existence to fulfill a specific function? If intelligence is required for success, the major players—Google, Microsoft, IBM, and Facebook—have a significant advantage over smaller developers.”
Aaref Hilaly, Partner at Sequoia Capital
“It becomes normal to talk to computers at work. Natural language understanding catches up with image recognition. Home devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home train people on how they can interact. Application vendors start to build in voice and messaging interfaces into their products, leveraging research from Google, Microsoft and others.”
Andrew Berger, Head of Sales Development, Square
“Customers and buyers demand information at their fingertips, and technology is facilitating the speed of information. Collaboration across multiple teams, departments, offices, and organizations is much more efficient with streamlined communication tools, such as Slack, enabling rapid response and answers to customers. The ability to sync CRM data into these communication tools, with smart bots and agents facilitating the workflow in an automated fashion, ensures all stakeholders are aware of customer needs and provides a much-improved customer experience.”
Jake Schwartz, CEO and Co-Founder at General Assembly
“Just as with the telegraph, the telephone, the mainframe, the database, the fax machine, email, and the PDA, etc etc, there are always new technologies changing how we work. The deeper change is what that work will look like. The demand for people with skills in data, software development, UX, is growing at an accelerated rate YoY. This acceleration will continue as companies make their transition to the future, which will involve a constantly evolving set of trends around communication, automation, and the pace of change. In the year ahead we are seeing more companies face their own challenges around staffing these roles, and how to upskill their previous generations of workers. Here at GA, we’re trying to make an impact by enabling the sourcing and the training of this next generation of skilled talent.
There were more than 250,000 positions open last year for what are called hybrid technical roles. These jobs don’t only pay well – with annual salaries ranging from $65k-110k – but their required skillsets are actually trainable and do not require an advanced degree. Roles are growing in skillsets that don’t exist (or are just starting to) and there’s a limited talent pool from which to fill that seat. I think in the year ahead we’ll see challenges tied to that skills gap become a painfully obvious opportunity for non-degree programs to make an even larger impact. Here at GA, we’re trying to make an impact by training people to be the producers of the future. We’re working to create efficient programs that fill the need for people versus solely focusing on the need for jobs.”
Ray Carroll, VP Sales at Engagio
“In 2017, the industry will start to realize that Account Based Marketing is NOT a technology category, it’s a strategic business initiative. Just like demand gen and inbound marketing are ways of running your marketing machine, ABM is a way of running your revenue machine. And, just like demand gen, ABM breaks down into many categories – including account selection, account research, account-based analytics, account-based advertising, automated sales plays, and more. If you want to succeed in 2017, you must align your entire organization around this strategy, put the foundation in place with lead-to-account matching and account-based analytics, and focus on quality engagement with your target accounts.”
There will always be a fine line between AI that enhances our skill versus replaces us entirely, and unfortunately, some of us will wake up and find ourselves in the latter situation.
These questions will only begun to be answered in the year ahead, but in 2017 we will continue the march towards another step forward in automation and intelligent systems.
Disclosure: Slack is an investor in Troops.ai