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Artificial Intelligence: From Hype to Real World Applications

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The concept of artificial intelligence – machines that can think, work and react like humans – has been around as long as computer science itself.

Over the decades, the potential impact of AI has thrown up any number of philosophical and sociological questions. Could “the rise of the machines” lead to computers and robots taking over the world? At the very least, will millions of employees find their jobs are handed over to “silicon” workers, and if so, what will be the social and business implications?

As I wrote in a previous blog, at the turn of the century these questions remained in the realm of the science fiction movie. But today it feels like we’re starting to live that movie script.

A combination of the explosion in available computing power, the development of advanced technology, and the skyrocketing availability, collection and analysis of usable data has made AI a reality.

As the AI discipline has matured and become a more mainstream topic of conversation over the past few years, the access to information and discussions about it have also bloomed.

Here in New Zealand, we have sites such as offering a useful resource for advancing the AI discussion; and when artificial intelligence is on the agenda of an industry conference or event, turnout is usually strong. You get the impression those in attendance aren’t there just for the wine and snacks, or even simply for the networking or industry learning opportunities. They are there because of a genuine recognition that AI is a phenomenon that will affect all elements of our lives over time.

Our upcoming event Data and the Digital Future will also offer some fascinating insights into the impact we can expect from AI, but more on that later.

Making sense of a vast, intimidating topic

It’s fair to say that part of the thirst for knowledge about AI is because it is a huge topic – covering a broad technology landscape from chatbots and machine learning through to thought-controlled activation – and for many people, it is an intimidating, even scary subject.
At the very least AI will be a major technology disruptor for businesses over the next few years.

At the extreme end of the futurist spectrum, thinkers including Richard Dawkins are pontificating that machines may be able to run the planet better than people and that humans may in fact ultimately be superseded by silicon-based intelligence that would become the repository of our cultural legacy.

Dawkins admits that scenario remains – for now – in the realms of science fiction, but he says it is a concept we need to start thinking about because it could, one day, become possible.

But our challenge today is working out how to move beyond the hype around AI so we can get past the shock-and-awe aspects of what could be, to seeing the practical and useful elements of what the technology can offer today and in the near future.

If we can look at AI as an everyday tool with practical business benefits, it will help move the discussion away from one dominated by scaremongering.

Remember that at the end of the day, AI is just another digital transformation among the many we have and will experience. It is the next natural technological step.

Yes, machine learning, the rise of autonomous systems, and other AI-related advances will change the employment landscape. One response, according to Bertalan Meskó, is to appreciate that in the future “soft” skills such creativity, empathy, compassion will be more important than a worker’s ability, for example, to write code.

Nibbling away at Artificial Intelligence, one bite at a time

So, given the complexity of the subject, how do we make sense of AI and its business applications?

The answer is to break it down into bite-size chunks in order to make it more manageable. Businesses can focus on using AI in one specific way or to tackle a certain opportunity. AI doesn’t need to totally transform a business – or industry – but if it can help in one way then it can be better understood.

Taking the food analogy a step further, Justin Herman told a Dunedin audience recently AI is like haggis – it can look terrifying before you try it but it can turn out to be pretty good once you give it a go!

Customer engagement is one area where AI technology is increasingly at play. You would have discovered first-hand how AI-enabled chat bots are gathering information and enhancing the customer experience when using chat bot Max when signing up for the Data and the Digital Future event. Air New Zealand is also embracing the technology, with its chat bot Oscar.

Meanwhile, AI has a vital role to play in enabling businesses to benefit from the arrival of big data that accompanies today’s digital transformations.

Machines can control, curate and analyse data in a far more intelligent way than humans are able to, in the process, unleashing its full potential.

A real-world New Zealand example is a company called Precision AI, which is using analytics and data visualisation to automate the counting buds, shoots and fruits in orchards and vineyards.

AI is also poised to have a major impact on the health sector, for example improving radiology.

Technology advancements based on AI are getting off the ground mainly because of a solid business case and real ROI. They offer value to businesses and their customers.

Is it time your business looked at how to take its first bite of the AI cake?

Learn more from the experts

Learning more about developments in artificial intelligence, along with real-world stories about how digital transformation, data and analytics are changing businesses for the better, will be an important aspect of our event Data and the Digital Future.

This event, proudly presented by Dynamo6 in association with Amazon Web Services (AWS), brings together a range of technology leaders who will share their knowledge and experience around digital transformation and the power of data, analytics, artificial intelligence and more.

In Hamilton (11.30am) or Tauranga (4.30pm) on September 28 it will be an informative presentation, and a chance to mingle with other local forward-thinking business professionals.

Interest in the event has been strong, so for those already registered, we look forward to seeing you on the day for what will be an informative event not to be missed.