Debunking myths about cognitive technology

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ANNA MARIE PABELLON

Cognitive technology has been developing increasingly “human” capabilities that impress real people, but despite eliciting “oohs” and “aahs” from admirers, this new tech has also created a palpable sense of wariness, maybe even dread, as it takes on more and more functions that used to be the sole province of humans. Some of the fears are warranted, for sure. But some may be premature, while other concerns may be altogether baseless.

Last year, Deloitte surveyed 250 senior US executives from organizations that were some of the most aggressive adopters of cognitive technologies, seeking to get a better picture of the prospects for this kind of technology and to find out if businesses which had invested in it have begun reaping the benefits. Based on the survey results, Deloitte Managing Director David Schatsky and Deloitte Analytics Senior Advisor Tom Davenport have drawn out – and qualified – five myths about cognitive technology.

Myth no. 1: The main use of cognitive technology is for automating work that people do.

While cognitive tech such as artificial intelligence (AI) is able to automate work that people do, this is hardly the entire or main picture. Many of the ways organizations are using AI do not involve substituting machine labor for human labor. Product applications, for example, embed cognitive tech into products or services in order to provide a better experience for the end user. Consider a hands-free mini camera that recognizes faces and helps you preserve memories by capturing candid moments unprompted; or a tabletop robot that makes it easier for older adults – especially those who aren’t tech savvy – to stay social either online or in the physical world.


Indeed, respondents to the Deloitte survey said that the most important benefits of AI are that it enables them to enhance products or create new ones, and to make better decisions. Automation as a benefit is at the bottom of their list.

Myth no. 2: Cognitive technologies lead to substantial job losses.

As an offshoot of the first myth, there is concern that the rise of cognitive tech will lead to job losses for a lot of people. While we are already seeing this in some sectors – Amazon’s brick-and-mortar grocery store eliminated the need for cashiers altogether – respondents to the Deloitte survey suggested that job losses will not come as a major implication of cognitive tech.

When asked about job-oriented scenarios for the next three years, majority of the respondents – i.e., 51 percent – said they believe humans and cognitive tech will augment each other to produce new ways of working. Even for the next 10 years, 56 percent of the respondents said they believe cognitive tech will either be augmenting human work or paving the way for the creation of new jobs. It is, however, worth noting that 22 percent believe the technology will displace a significant number of workers a decade from now. So while job losses may be a real scenario, job creation and increased productivity and efficiency must also be considered as possible results.

Myth no. 3: The financial benefits of cognitive tech are far down the road.

Perhaps because tech giants get the bulk of publicity when it comes to using cognitive tech, many people think the technology is not suited for ordinary companies, or that it will take too long to realize any financial benefit. True, tech giants are leaps and bounds ahead of typical companies when it comes to harnessing cognitive tech. But this doesn’t mean the technology is out of reach for other companies.

Some of Deloitte’s survey respondents have made only modest investments in cognitive tech: 35 percent have invested less than $1 million; a quarter have invested from $5 million to less than $10 million. And yet a significant majority – 83 percent – said they have already realized either moderate (53 percent) or substantial (30 percent) economic benefits. Moreover, 92 percent of respondents who reported more AI deployments (11 or more AI projects) said their projects yielded economic benefit.

Schatsky and Davenport are in no way saying that cognitive tech leads to certain positive ROI, but the data suggests that financial benefits can be felt in the here and now.

Myth no. 4: AI is overhyped and is about to disappoint us.

Not surprisingly, many of the respondents to Deloitte’s survey don’t think so. In fact, 10 percent think AI is actually underhyped. Remember that these are executives who are already using cognitive tech, and a significant number of them have already seen their investment bearing fruit.

Myth no. 5: Cognitive technology is only about transformational change.

A good number of respondents – 47 percent – bear this out: They believe organizations should strive for large-scale change when deploying cognitive tech. But 40 percent believe it is better to pick the low-hanging fruit. This suggests that if investing in a transformational project may seem too daunting in terms of risks and expense, then organizations can just as well consider multiple, less ambitious projects. When combined, these small steps could yield transformational outcomes.

While there is a vast range of speculation on the impact of cognitive tech, no one can say for sure how it will change our work and our lives. But if we are to believe the business leaders who have taken the plunge, then there’s more reason to be excited – rather than worried – about the increasing pervasiveness of this new technology.

The author is a partner with the Risk Advisory group of Navarro Amper & Co., the local member firm of Deloitte Southeast Asia Ltd. – a member firm of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited – comprising Deloitte practices operating in Brunei, Cambodia, Guam, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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