Artificial intelligence (AI) was a key feature in many of the new products unveiled at last week's CES 2018 trade show in Las Vegas, powering everything from laundry-folding robots and smart mirrors to autonomous cars and image recognition apps for the visually impaired.

But while AI and machine learning promise to enable whole new classes of consumer products, those smart capabilities are also becoming increasingly vital for business users. That's especially true for marketers and other business professionals who spend their days working to find, connect with, and sell to customers.

Across every industry, companies are facing more pressure than ever to transform for the digital and intelligent business era. Analyst firm IDC, for example, recently predicted that a growing portion of the $1.3 trillion that businesses will spend on digital transformation technologies will focus on "innovation accelerators," such as AI, cognitive computing, and robotics. In fact, marketing in particular is undergoing "an AI revolution," according to a report released by Salesforce last year.

High Performers Using AI Most

"Artificial intelligence is the leading technology where marketers expect the most growth in the next two years," noted the "2017 Salesforce State of Marketing" report. "Internally, marketers view AI as a means of creating more efficiency in their operations. For customers, most marketers see it as a way to get more from their data and ramp up personalization without burdening their teams."

Providing personalized service is becoming a make-or-break issue for many businesses, according to Salesforce. The report cited a study of 7,000 consumers and business buyers around the world that found a majority in each case -- 52 percent of consumers and 65 percent of business buyers -- said they'd be likely to look at switching to other companies if their communications weren't personalized enough.

The Salesforce study also predicted that marketers' use of AI was likely to grow by 53 percent over 2018 and 2019, with 51 percent of those surveyed saying they were already using AI and another 27 percent saying they planned to start doing so soon. Among high-performing marketers, 72 percent are currently using AI, the study noted.

"While usage seems high for a tech type that's still in its infancy, AI has its roots in tactics like product recommendations and predictive lead scoring, which successful marketers have been using for years," according to the report. "Over the next five years, most marketers think AI will substantially impact their capacity for improving efficiency and advancing personalization."

Rise of Voice-Based Services

Customer experience is another area where marketers expect to see AI providing vital benefits, the Salesforce report noted. Technologies that will help in that area include chatbots and Internet of Things-enabled products.

Such applications can already be seen in action through the rapid consumer adoption of voice-enabled assistants over the past year. And they're showing signs of accelerated use in business settings as well, as illustrated by Amazon's November launch of Alexa for Business.

In addition to supporting hands-free calling and easy remote conferencing, Alexa for Business provides intelligent assistance for checking calendars, scheduling meetings, and managing to-do lists, Amazon said.

Voice- and audio-based AI is becoming the new touch for marketers, Pandora senior vice president Susan Panico told the publication GeoMarketing today.

"One of the biggest trends isn't even really a trend -- it's here and now: Voice," Panico said. "We're really seeing everything being controlled with voice, and audio becoming the new touch. . . . So many marketers think about what their visual representation is, and now they really need to start thinking about their sonic representation."