Denis Balibouse/Reuters

Today’s generations have a lot to look forward to. The first man (or woman!) on Mars, the popularization of self-driving cars, and the first AI-powered robot to be granted citizenship by a country — except that we don’t have to look forward to that last one because it has already happened.

Business Insider reports that Saudi Arabia has bestowed citizenship on a robot named Sophia. The ceremonial event was held in the capital city of Riyadh, ahead of the Future Investment Initiative.

“I am very honored and proud of this unique distinction,” Sophia told the audience, speaking on a panel. “This is historical to be the first robot in the world to be recognized with a citizenship.”

The impacts of AI and artificial people on our society are not yet well-known or documented. The BI article points out that Sophia’s creator, David Hanson, thinks robots like Sophia will play the role of visitor assistance specialist in parks and at events, or will be used to help seniors in elderly care facilities (the latter is already true, according to USC’s Leonard Davis School of Gerontology).

While all very interesting, the real question here is: how will this affect me and my business? AI seems very advanced, and is not likely something I’ll have to deal with anytime soon… right? Wrong.

Chatbots and Virtual Assistants By The Numbers

As chatbots have become less expensive, more businesses, big and small, are using them for marketing purposes. Juniper Research predicts that chatbots will actually be responsible for cost savings of over $8 billion annually by 2022, up from $20 million in 2017. Forbes Contributor, Gil Press, has put together a number of other key highlights concerning chatbots and voice assistants:

  • 60% of US online adults already use online messaging, voice, or video chat services
  • 55% of consumers would like to select their media by curating a list that draws heavily on AI recommendations or simply have it completely selected by a bot
  • 31% of business executives believe “virtual personal assistants” will have the largest impact on their business, more than any other “AI-powered solution”
  • 34% of business executives say that the time freed up from using digital assistants allows them to focus on deep thinking and creating
  • 27% of consumers weren’t sure if their last customer service interaction was with a human or a chatbot
  • By 2020, the average person will have more conversations with bots than with their spouse. 30% of web browsing will be done by voice
  • 40% of consumers don’t care whether a chatbot or a person answers their customer service questions, as long as they get help quickly and easily
  • 56% of consumers worldwide reported still preferring to speak with a human instead of getting assistance from a chatbot

The growing popularity of AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants stems from the cost-savings that businesses the world over have seen after implementing them. While any sensible business person should look into how these technologies can benefit their organization, they should also be wary of any potential downsides that may arise as well.

The Downsides of Chatbots and Virtual Assistants

While AI has made life and business undeniably easier, there are still those who are wary of its introduction into our society. Digital agency, SYZYGY, recently published a study called “Sex, Lies, and A.I.”, which found that public perception of A.I. may not be as hot as once imagined:

“Research… reveals that 79% of Americans believe a new ‘Blade Runner rule’ is needed to make it illegal for A.I. applications such as social media bots, chatbots and virtual assistants to conceal their identity and pose as humans,” writes Markets Insider. “Nine in 10 (89%) of Americans believe that the use of A.I. in marketing should be regulated with a legally-binding code of conduct and almost three-quarters (71%) think that brands should need their explicit consent before using A.I. when marketing to them.”

This means that, as much as you may want your A.I. chatbot to sound as human as possible, your customers may not want the same. Be extremely conscious about how you deploy A.I. on the customer-facing side of business — you may ruffle feathers in a way you weren’t expecting.

Another downside comes in the form of security. Kount recently ran a story about how hackers can gain access to your business’s backend and perpetuate a new and unusual type of fraud attack via unsecured chatbots and help desks. As with any new technology, it takes time to work out the kinks. Do your research and find the best product for you.

So… What Does This All Mean for Businesses?

The growth in adoption of A.I.-powered chatbots and virtual assistants means that your business, no matter how big or small, will likely end up using them in some capacity. While Sophia, the first robot citizen, is definitely a first (and likely more a publicity stunt at this point in time), you can expect that it won’t be the last.

As with the adoption of any type of new technology, make sure you do extensive research before you purchase and deploy. It’s still the early days for this type of technology, meaning that you need to be prepared for any outcome associated with purchase and deployment — good and bad.

Andrew Heikkila is an entrepreneur, artist, and writer from Idaho. He likes to cover global issues in business, the Millennial workforce, and leadership topics. When he’s not enjoying habanero pizza and craft beer, you can find him on a run in the beautiful foothills above Boise. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndyO_TheHammer