Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one of those great terms like Cloud – it means different things to different people. Throw in Machine Learning and Deep Learning and you can get really confused. In essence, they are all forms of data analysis and decision making, but they go a step further than just a decision tree with options for pre-programmed responses. True Artificial Intelligence won’t rely on what a software developer has entered, with the machines being smart enough to suggest things we hadn’t even thought of.
Automation for the win
Automation is seeing a rise in popularity and it’s worth mentioning for its business benefits, though it doesn’t count as true AI. Services like IFTTT and Zapier allow you to connect different services and set triggers to action something in a different system, all with zero coding knowledge. Microsoft has also entered the game with Flow, bringing repeat loops, condition monitoring and an advanced set of features but being limited to business-focussed services.
Computers are really great at analysing data, much better than us humans are. Thanks to advances in technology and it’s affordability, the machines are collecting and storing more data than ever before. Machine Learning would have been pretty boring 10 years ago when hardly anyone had a digital ‘footprint’’ but even without social media accounts, you now leave a digital trail as your surf the Internet and interact with companies.
Machine Learning is really good at spotting patterns and making predictions. So much so that Xero is planning on removing account coding from invoices in their accounting software, because they’ve tested and proven that machines can more accurately handle this task than humans can.
Helping consumers spend more
Retailers are tapping into this to help you spend your hard-earned dollars, with the Mall of America launching E.L.F. this last Christmas season – your very own personal shopper bot.
And while you’re at home, digital assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and OK Google run AI in the background, improving their ability to capture the essence of your natural language command and serve up the best responses and recommendations. Microsoft’s Cortana will enter this game too in 2017 on a device rumoured to be a Harmon Kardon speaker.
At the office
Even the software we use for work, whether it’s GSuite or Office 365, now has Machine Learning at its core, serving us related topics or documents. The days of terrible search results are fading, thank goodness, with the machines being able to connect related information across different sources (e.g. calendar entries, documents, emails and team members).
And we haven’t spoken yet about services that analyse the habits of our customers, warning us of habitual late payers or customers who may be in the market to upgrade that thing they bought from us 12 months ago. This technology is becoming so accessible that it won’t be limited to a select few people in your company, raising the visibility of opportunities across the entire organisation.
Don’t tell the helpdesk, but chatbots can now answer your tech questions (like how do I format a table in Word). In the future, we’re hoping that a concept called Autonomic Computing will bring us better self-healing computer systems, so that minor issues can fix themselves.
Today’s AI players
While this might all sound a little Sci-Fi, it’s being taken very seriously by all of the big technology players. Microsoft CEO states “AI is at the intersection of our ambitions.” Google has a new group in it’s Cloud division focused on AI and Machine Learning. Apple have been very quiet about their AI plans, but are known to be working on image recognition software so Machine Learning can improve your photograpy skills. Facebook has plans to build more than 1.5 billion AI agents, something they certainly have the data for.
The scary part of all of this is there are no standards to govern any of it. Entrepreneur Elon Musk and his buddies have formed the OpenAI research company to help everybody play nicely and not destroy the world. But Sci-Fi nuts can’t help but think we’re on the edge of Skynet.
The ethical dilemma
For now, most AI decisions still have a human intervention component. You have to approve the purchase of a recommended product before it turns up on your doorstep. When we give the machines the power to make the decisions, they could turn out to be smarter than us. If you want to scare yourself, watch Sam Harris’ TED talk – he’s worried that we’re not scared enough.
Technology companies have a great way of hyping up a concept, then there’s usually a reality pause before it actually impacts us. They are all so focused on AI now and the rate of technology adoption is skyrocketing, so that reality gap is getting shorter and shorter.
Take a look now at software automations and stay with us through 2017, as we bring you the news on real AI announcements that can help your business.