Algorithms have gotten into everything, right? For better or worse, machine learning determines the news we see, the movies we watch, the products we buy, and the way we drive home. In fact, it might seem like AI is everywhere you look, except um… your own company’s app or website?

Never fear, you’re not late to this, and you’re not behind. Even as AI has become pervasive in our individual lives, it’s not yet widespread in product organizations. Only a select few companies have adopted machine learning as an ordinary part of doing business and building products, but that set is growing faster than you might think.

An IBM report released this week underscores the speed of change. In a survey of 4500 companies around the world, 34% say they’ve adopted AI (for large companies with 1000+ employees, it’s 45%). Another 39% are ramping up in exploratory phases. “If you look forward to the next 18 to 24 months, that’s probably going to change to 80% to 90% adoption of AI across the board,” said IBM VP Ritika Gunnar at CES yesterday.

IBM stats: 3 in 4 businesses are exploring or implementing AI
An IBM survey found that 3 of 4 companies have adopted or are experimenting with AI.

For many of the companies already working with this new design material, sprinkling AI into a product or business process has become just another part of everyday software creation. For the managers, designers, and developers at these companies, it’s already second nature to collect data around a product and apply machine learning to make that product better or more personalized.

These organizations may be in the vanguard, but we’ll all join them soon. There’s nothing magic about these companies or their underlying technologies. Machine-learning models are readily available, even as plug-and-play services that you can start using within the hour. You don’t have to build the whole thing yourself. The tools are already available to all—and yes, that includes you, your team, your organization. Here at Big Medium, a growing portion of our product work is bringing AI and machine learning to products whose companies are using it for the first time. It’s starting to happen for everyone now.

Just as mobile defined the last decade of digital product design, machine learning is already defining the next. The arrival of mainstream machine learning is as transformative as the advent of relational databases in the 1980s, the web in the 1990s, or mobile in the 2000s. And like those technologies, designing with AI is bound to become the everyday norm. Before long, pretty much everything will have a little machine learning inside, and that will be no big deal. This technology is not only within the reach of all, it’s soon to be expected of all. We’ll all be making software with casual intelligence.

You’re not behind, but it’s time to get after it. The good news is that this is not a winner-take-all race. The big technology companies may be slurping up all the data they can, but no matter how large their hoard becomes, it doesn’t mean that they “win” at AI. A company may dominate a specific domain, but data is highly specific to any application. No matter how many photos Facebook collects to become the best at face recognition, that has no bearing on the system you create to recommend products to customers, or plan your delivery logistics, or identify new customer behaviors. Machine learning is only the enabling infrastructure layer. The data you bring to it and the way you use it is completely your own—and outside the reach of the data-thirsty tech giants.

AI has not so much come of age as reached an awkward adolescence. We’re still inventing this together; you’re right on time.

What matters much more, and is still very much in play, is how to best put these powerful new tools to use. The last couple of years have shown that even the big tech companies are still sorting that out. If anything, the first generation of mainstream AI products has shown us as much about what not to do as what we should. AI has not so much come of age as reached an awkward adolescence. At Big Medium, we’re doing what we can to help it grow up. Much of our recent product work focuses on helping clients create design patterns that put the algorithm to work in meaningful, respectful, and responsible ways. We’re still inventing this together. You’re right on time.

Are you or your team wrestling with how to adopt and design for machine learning and AI? Big Medium can help—with executive sessions, workshops, or full-blown engagements for product design and development. Get in touch.

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