Self-driving cars, self-adjusting thermostats, machine-based virtual assistants — artificial intelligence is here, and it’s awesome. AI-backed devices and apps are changing the way we live our lives, including how we track our health, lose weight, refill prescriptions, and do so much more.

But AI is too powerful to be limited to consumer use. It’s also becoming crucial for businesses that want to scale processes that would typically be very high-touch and time-consuming, like sending a different message to every one of their customers. An intelligent program can automate those kinds of functions, freeing up your team to do what humans do best: think creatively and solve highly complex problems.

AI can also improve your customers’ experiences by automatically sending product recommendations and making tasks simpler; it’s what Amazon relies on to push tailored recommendations, and it’s how Facebook identifies faces in photos before users tag them.

Though people are often wary of software that tracks their moves and preferences, most consumers are happy to embrace this technology when they see benefits. According to Accenture, nearly 60 percent of consumers say they want to receive real-time promotions and offers.

In fact, some consumers are beginning to demand it. Magnetic and Retail TouchPoints reported that more than half of all American Internet users say that “information shared with them should be relevant to what they’re currently interested in or looking to buy, as well as pertinent to their personal taste, style, age group, or location.”

Companies that ignore these preferences do so at their own peril. A 2015 Gigya study on privacy and personalization showed that customers who receive irrelevant brand messages are likely to unsubscribe from those companies’ email lists, avoid their websites, abandon their products, and even badmouth them to their networks. Considering that word of mouth is the top influencer of modern sales conversions, you don’t want to get on the wrong side of your customers.

Leveraging the power of AI can help you do the opposite. It allows you to learn about each customer’s preferences and nurture individual relationships in a way that’s automated, not canned.

Getting Started With AI

Artificial intelligence presents countless opportunities for business development, many of which we haven’t even seen yet. One of the most popular subfields of AI is machine learning: ML-powered programs find patterns in data and use them to make increasingly smart decisions.

It’s impressive, but take note — it’s not an on-off switch you can flip whenever you need a hand with automation. Implementing machine learning solutions requires a serious investment of both time and money. The program needs time to ingest the data and actually learn from it; if you’re patient, you’ll see a marked improvement in its ability to help your business.

Moreover, there’s a gradient between simple automation and general artificial intelligence (i.e., an AI that’s as smart as a human — for the record, we’re not quite there yet). Before you partner with a given company, identify where on that gradient your needs fall. Ask yourself, “What are my business goals? Why do I want to use machine learning in the first place, and what metrics do I want it to impact?” Make sure you’re clear on those things before selecting a vendor or developing anything in-house.

If you’re unclear about how machine learning can fit into your business, let’s take a look at how it’s already begun to play out in several industries.

Machines in Action

Machine learning and AI will eventually transform every industry, but some sectors stand to benefit more immediately than others. Here are three in particular:

1. E-commerce: The implications of machine learning in e-commerce are far-reaching. Computers will become increasingly important for fraud protection and business intelligence, and they’ll guide how and when companies sell to their users across all platforms.

E-commerce companies can use machine learning to increase purchase rates and average order values through personalized product recommendations. Then, they can take it one step further by reconnecting with disengaged customers through customized email subject lines and tailored offers. Machine learning programs can also boost content marketing strategies by pushing relevant brand materials to customers based on their purchasing histories.

2. Publishing: For the most part, content creators (and content distribution platforms) are using machine learning to boost user engagement. Facebook’s algorithms, for example, show users content that’s relevant to them based on their behavior; advanced publishers do the same on their own websites. Machine learning-powered distribution creates brand affinity among readers, shifting the content from being a commodity to being something that contributes to a well-rounded user experience. The benefits extend to other channels, too: Publishers can build up their subscriber lists through targeted emails populated with personalized content.

Brands such as BuzzFeed are already leveraging machine learning and data science to target readers, using Netflix-like clusters to determine which stories people are most likely to click. A team of European researchers is currently developing a machine learning algorithm that helps publishers determine when smartphone users are bored, allowing them to push content to these people at just the right time.

3. Finance: Machine learning is being used across a number of financial functions, particularly as they relate to the stock market. Algorithms can predict future trends and help traders price derivatives, as well as alert the industry to potential bubbles and crashes.

Machine learning can also help standardize asset evaluations and liquidity assessments, leading to industrywide improvements in projections and consistency. Investors and financial planners can leverage these machine-generated predictions for portfolio optimization and risk minimization.

No matter what type of business you run, AI programs will help you understand your customers more intimately, improve their experiences, and sell to them more effectively. You’ll be able to tailor your messages to people in a way that resonates on an individual level, even when you’re targeting thousands (or millions) of consumers.

In short, the era of machine learning has only just begun; if you want to be a bold first mover in your industry, now’s the time to jump.