“AI will have a more profound impact than electricity or fire” – Sundar Pichai, CEO, Google

Sundar’s bold claim speaks to the epic future possibilities promised by AI. Yet despite the hype, current reality is somewhat more mundane. Gautum Shrofffrom from Tata Consultancy Services in India says, “Some may have been misled by glowing media reports, believing AI to be a magic wand that can be installed as easily as a piece of Microsoft software.”

Cue disappointment.

Those involved in implementing AI solutions have come to realize that substantial investment is required in data preparation, intensive monitoring of algorithms and a bucketload of customization, in order to build anything useful.

 

What is AI being used for today?

  • Bloomberg uses AI to automatically generate news articles by scanning companies’ earnings releases.
  • Vodafone uses AI to predict problems with its network and users’ devices before they arise.
  • • Leroy Merlin uses algorithms to stock shelves more effectively, using past sales data and other info like weather forecasts.
  • Amazon uses AI to guide robots in warehouses and optimize packing and delivery; detecting counterfeit goods.
  • Alibaba and Ant Financial are experimenting with facial recognition for approving transactions.
  • Johnson & Johnson and Accenture use AI to sort through job applications and pick the best candidates.
  • E-commerce companies like Amazon use AI to generate product recommendations.
  • Advertizing platforms like Google AdWords, Facebook and LinkedIn use AI for targeting ads and forecasting demand.
  • Self-driving cars use AI to recognize objects.
  • Voice assistants like Alexa and Siri use AI to recognize speech and take action.
  • Chinese insurance company Ping An uses AI to flag up when loan applications through their app require further checks. Potential customers answer questions via video and they monitor 50 facial expressions to gauge whether they’re lying or telling the truth.
  • Casino and hotel group Caesars uses AI to guess how much customers are likely to spend, then offers personalized promotions to draw them in.
  • Cogito listens to customer service calls using AI, assigning an ‘empathy score’ and giving guidance to agents for building rapport.

 

The practicality of AI solutions

It’s clear AI is already impacting every sector. Rather than treating it as something special and space-age, we can begin to think of it as another practical tool at our disposal.

However, like many cool new tools, the idea of it is really exciting, but when you come to play with it in real life, it’s easy to get a bit stuck.

If you’re of a certain age, you may recall sitting down at the first Apple computer, ready to change the world, only to find yourself at a loss a few minutes later. What should you actually do with it?

Likewise when Google first appeared and you were faced with that blank input field. What the heck should you search for? Then there are the nerds (me included) who bought a 3D printer early on, only to find themselves surrounded by small plastic cubes, cross-bows and perhaps a miniature day-glo vase shortly after… none of which put a proverbial ding in the universe.

We’re facing a similar trough of disillusionment where AI is concerned. So when we sit down at the drawing board, what can we actually do with AI? Gurdeep Singh from Microsoft describes AI systems as ‘idiot savants’.

They can easily do jobs that humans find mind-boggling, like detecting tiny flaws in manufactured goods or quickly categorizing millions of photos of faces, but have trouble with things that people find easy, like basic reasoning.

 

The not so wow factor

So it turns out the use cases aren’t always ‘wow’ on the scale of sci-fi cool, but potentially ‘wow’ on the scale of time-saving practicality.

For instance your email client is probably using AI to show you which emails are most important, filtering out the spam. Not exactly mind-blowing, but let’s face it, many of today’s time sucking tasks are dull.

But if AI can relieve us of all the mundane, repetitive activities in our lives and jobs, we’re freed up to enter a new era of productivity. Our time can be better spent on honing our uniquely human skillsets, like EQ, creative problem solving, curiosity and flexibility.

Not so dull after all.