Thanks to pop culture, it’s not difficult to conjure an image of artificial intelligence. Whether it’s WALL-E, R2-D2 or HAL, the technology often takes shape as a thinking, sentient being. Hollywood writers might animate it this way for the movies, but what about the business world?  

AI enables a computer or computer-controlled robot to perform tasks commonly associated with human beings—such as the ability to have human-like conversations, reason, discover meaning, generalize or learn from past experience, according to George Despinic, senior product marketing manager at Mitel.

Already, more than 60 percent of organizations have implemented AI. In fact, many are integrating it into their cloud communications solutions, using the technology to enhance the customer experience and improve productivity. 

Yet, defining artificial intelligence is a challenge because the technology is still evolving. Business, government and academia all play key roles in developing AI or assessing its capabilities. To understand what AI is, it’s useful to examine how some of these experts define it at this moment.

How analysts define artificial intelligence

Several respected research and consulting firms monitor the space and write extensively about it. For example, Gartner predicts the global business value earned through artificial intelligence will increase to $3.9 trillion in 2022, from $1.2 trillion in 2018. The research firm views artificial intelligence as “technology that appears to emulate human performance typically by learning, coming to its own conclusions, appearing to understand complex content, engaging in natural dialogs with people, enhancing human cognitive performance or replacing people on execution of nonroutine tasks.”

Applications range from autonomous vehicles to automatic speech recognition, as well as detecting novel concepts and abstractions, which the firm notes will be “useful for detecting potential new risks and aiding humans to quickly understand very large bodies of ever-changing information.”

Research firm IDC says AI will not only help humans understand issues, but also help solve problems. They define it as “a set of technologies that use deep natural language processing and understanding to answer questions and provide recommendations and direction.”

Emerj (formerly TechEmergence) emphasizes AI’s ability to learn. The research firm describes it as “an entity able to receive inputs from the environment, interpret and learn from such inputs, and exhibit related and flexible behaviors and actions that help the entity achieve a particular goal or objective over a period of time.”

Meanwhile, Deloitte differentiates between narrow and general AI: “Narrow AIs are mostly much better than humans at the task they were made for: For example, look at face recognition, chess computers, calculus, translation. The holy grail of AI is a General AI, a single system that can learn and then solve any problem it is presented. This is exactly what humans do: we can specialize in a specific topic, from abstract math to psychology and from sports to art. We can become experts at all of them.”

How academics define AI

Academics have spent decades pushing technology to new limits. John McCarthy founded the artificial intelligence discipline at Stanford and coined the phrase in 1956. His definition is one of the earliest: “It is the science and engineering of making intelligent machines, especially intelligent computer programs. It is related to the similar task of using computers to understand human intelligence, but AI does not have to confine itself to methods that are biologically observable.”

Karen Hao, the artificial intelligence reporter for MIT Technology Review points out that “the vast majority of the AI advancements and applications you hear about refer to a category of algorithms known as machine learning.” These are the capabilities that have powered recommendation engines such as Netflix and Amazon and make facial and speech recognition possible.

How tech companies define artificial intelligence

Of course, data makes these use cases possible. According to analytics company SAS, “artificial intelligence (AI) makes it possible for machines to learn from experience, adjust to new inputs and perform human-like tasks. Most AI examples that you hear about today – from chess-playing computers to self-driving cars – rely heavily on deep learning and natural language processing. Using these technologies, computers can be trained to accomplish specific tasks by processing large amounts of data and recognizing patterns in the data.”

Each of these definitions adds important elements to the overall concept of artificial intelligence, but learning is at the heart of each. However, the capacity to learn is predicated on the ability to communicate, something that Murray Campbell, IBM distinguished researcher and architect of DeepBlue, says is crucial to the evolution of AI:

“For people and machines to work together, they need to be able to interact in a much more natural way, and conversation is our go-to way of exchanging information.”

Indeed, businesses will benefit from AI because it will transform how they interact with customers. Within the context of customer experience, AI replaces humans who would typically be involved in a customer’s experience – like a sales, service or support associate – with an artificially intelligent bot.

New use cases will continue to emerge as the technology becomes more advanced. That means the definition of AI will continue to evolve, and organizations will have to keep pace if they want to reap the business benefits.

Want to learn more about using artificial intelligence to provide a better customer experience? Check out the white paper. >


Digital transformation has become a top initiative for business and IT leaders. In today’s business world, sustainable market leadership is no longer based solely on which company has the best products or even the best people. Instead, organizations that are agile and can quickly adapt to rapidly evolving market trends will become market leaders.

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