While it may feel novel to mess around with a customer service chatbot, there may come a day when artificial intelligence, or AI, is the primary way you interact with companies.
That's one of the big trends in a report out Thursday from IT consulting firm Accenture about how technology will change businesses in the next three years. Once tech like AI filters through the powers that be, it may very well land right in front of you, the consumer.
Accenture surveyed more than 5,400 business and IT execs, and AI is one of the technologies on their minds.
Technology, of course, is already far reaching. Pew Research Center estimates that 77 percent of Americans own a smartphone. Delivery giant UPS and analytics firm ComScore released a report in June that found 51 percent of purchases by the 5,000 shoppers surveyed were made online. That number could climb higher as the ability to order something becomes as easy as talking to your Amazon Echo or Google Home smart devices.
"We're poised for the biggest change in the way we live and work since the start of the information age," said Paul Daugherty, Accenture's chief technology and innovation officer.
With regard to AI taking over customer relations, we already see the seeds of this shift. In 2016, Facebook introduced chatbots for businesses. This means that a consumer can order flowers, for example, by communicating with an AI interface instead of a human. As of September, there were more than 30,000 chatbots in existence.
Accenture expects that tech will start to understand humans a lot better over time. Citing a study that found people tend to ignore warnings from their security software, Accenture's report discussed the reasons behind such behavior: It isn't because people are unaware of cybersecurity threats, but rather that warnings pop up at the wrong time. Sending a warning in between tasks instead of in the middle of them shows how tech could be better designed to accommodate human behavior.
"We're slaves to dumb machines," Daugherty said. "As machines get smarter, they can allow us to work more effectively."
Another big trend involves companies partnering with the tech world. The report gave the example of using your Amazon Echo to check your financial accounts or even pay bills. Or, for example, General Motors partnered with ride-hailing service Lyft last March on a car rental service. So, if you wanted to become a Lyft driver but didn't have a car, GM would cut you a deal on a rental for up to eight weeks.
The bar that businesses will have to reach is making sure all this tech makes consumers' lives easier, Daugherty said. If it's just about selling another product, consumers will walk away.