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AI is a machine’s ability to perform the cognitive functions we associate with human minds, such as perceiving, reasoning, learning, interacting with the environment, problem-solving, and even exercising creativity. You’ve probably interacted with AI even if you don’t realize it—voice assistants like Siri and Alexa are founded on AI technology, as are some customer service chatbots that pop up to help you navigate websites.

Applied AI—simply, artificial intelligence applied to real-world problems—has serious implications for the business world. By using artificial intelligence, companies have the potential to make business more efficient and profitable. But ultimately, the value of AI isn’t in the systems themselves. Rather, it’s in how companies use these systems to assist humans—and their ability to explain to shareholders and the public what these systems do—in a way that builds trust and confidence.

Machine learning is a form of artificial intelligence that can adapt to a wide range of inputs, including large sets of historical data, synthesized data, or human inputs. (Some machine learning algorithms are specialized in training themselves to detect patterns; this is called deep learning. See Exhibit 1.) These algorithms can detect patterns and learn how to make predictions and recommendations by processing data, rather than by receiving explicit programming instruction. Some algorithms can also adapt in response to new data and experiences to improve over time.