Will machines take over the world?

Years ago, sci-fi movies typically included a robot-type machine programmed by man that would inexplicably develop a mind of its own and turn on its human creators. Today, there are those who believe that thinking machines utilizing artificial intelligence, commonly referred to as AI, may not actually turn on us but will instead eliminate an extraordinary number of jobs and drive the masses to the soup kitchens.

While this hypothesis is highly doubtful, according to GSM Association, an international wireless smartphone industry association, there are now 1 billion more mobile connections than there are people worldwide and many of these employ AI.

The reality is that AI has gone mainstream with large corporations and even lesser-sized enterprises, supplanting people with self-thinking inventions to accomplish repetitive and routine functions. This is likely only the beginning as we make more devices that think smarter, eliminating employees performing not only perfunctory tasks, but also a variety of technical and midlevel jobs currently done by mere mortals.

The Industrial Revolution, which began about 1760, continues to evolve and has been characterized by four eras — mechanization, mass production, computerization and the current generation, which includes robotics, the internet and AI. As one example, new AI uses soon to become ubiquitous are driverless vehicles that no longer need the presence of a physical being to swerve from lane to lane to reach a destination.

It almost sounds like something out of the long-running TV show, “The Jetsons.” And yet, just think how frequently we ask Siri a question or instruct Alexa to order everyday products or scour the internet for a unique, obscure widget. Searching for information, which previously took either a trip to the library or a diligent assistant to scan newspaper clippings and boxes and boxes of seldom used files, can now be done with apps using AI on a computer or smartphone.

Also, don’t forget the IBM supercomputer, Watson, which has achieved feats from beating the world’s chess champions to mapping complex logistic strategies and providing these solutions in minutes and hours, rather than days, weeks and even months.

Big businesses already get it. Now it’s time for every small and midsized enterprise to acknowledge the power of AI, making it a top priority — starting with the creation of a new position, staffed by a living being, devoted full time to harnessing the power of AI.

A major focus must be on how to transfer more job functions to automatons and retrain those displaced midlevel positions for new roles that require insightful human senses and emotions — something machines can’t yet do. The future value of a business won’t be calculated solely on sales and earnings, but also on how AI effectively is utilized for optimum results. Clearly many jobs that no longer require a beating heart will disappear. Innovations, however, powered by sophisticated algorithms and ever-advancing AI, will also spawn new jobs we’ve yet to imagine.

AI is not a man vs. machines scenario, but instead exemplifies economic synergy in which 1 + 1 = 3.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax and in 16-years, as CEO, grew the retailer to sales of $5 billion in 1,000 stores worldwide. Today, as founder/CEO of Max-Ventures, his firm invests in and consults for retail businesses.