How Will AI Affect Consulting?

  • Feb 22,2018

Image credit: Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash

Artificial intelligence (AI) and automation will have a transformative impact on the future of work. By 2030, McKinsey estimates between 400 and 800 million people could be “displaced by automation.” We commonly hear that people with manufacturing and transportation jobs are at risk. But professional, knowledge-based workers—like consultants—should also take note.

AI can learn fast, analyze mounds of data, and find patterns, which can be problematic for data-driven occupations, like consulting. It’s an argument that Harvard Business Review (HBR) takes up in a recent article. “The processing power of four smart consultants with excel spreadsheets is miniscule in comparison to a single smart computer using AI running for an hour, based on continuous, non-stop machine learning.”

AI undoubtedly has certain advantages over humans. However, there are limitations. A computer beats a human at a game of Go because it’s “analyzing data for patterns,” a recent MIT article points out. But the computer doesn’t know whether it’s playing Go or golf, the article adds, and it wouldn’t know what to do “if more than half of a Go board was pushed beyond the edge of a table.” So it makes sense that humans pick up where computers fall short.

As it relates to consulting, humans can use the data AI generates to create customized, innovative solutions for clients. Put another way, AI doesn’t mean the end of human consultants. But their role is being redefined as some consulting companies use AI as a tool to help them in their work.

Accenture, a Boston-based business management consultancy, uses AI to help their clients in multiple ways. It’s helping pharmaceutical companies “automate drug safety analysis” by using natural language processing and machine learning and rules. It’s also using AI to detect fraud in large sets of data; then humans investigate. Kortical offers a different twist. Their consultation service helps businesses determine what sectors can benefit from AI.

The human-machine partnership is already proving fruitful in other industries. Watson is making a name for itself in the medical field, including its ability to assist medical professionals with diagnosing cancer. In fact, in 2016 Watson made a leukemia diagnosis that doctors had missed several months prior.

AI is opening up new, and arguably more interesting, opportunities. And that’s why consultants should think of AI as a tool, not a threat. Indeed, the human-machine partnership is a reciprocal relationship: algorithms can’t do much without human help, but a growing number of industries, including consulting, are relying on them to improve the way business is done. We’re only at the tip of what’s possible when humans and AI work together. Let AI help with the data part of the job. Then, use this information to present relevant, detailed solutions to clients.