Artificial intelligence (AI) and a world in which machines threaten humanity’s status quo has been the preserve of science fiction for decades. In the Eighties, Terminator was set in a post-apocalyptic world in which cyborgs rule, RoboCop’s protagonist was part-man, part-machine and Short Circuit toyed with the idea of robots developing human-like minds, with rather more endearing results.
The reality is the bot has bolted. AI is walking and talking among us. In 2016, we use voice-recognition systems, driverless cars are being trialed and robotic hotel receptionists work in Japan. The advent of certain technologies – inexpensive high-speed internet, secure cloud storage, mobility solutions and low-cost devices – has allowed the fantastical possibilities of the past to become reality.
Armed with that tech oomph, it is vital for business leaders to engage with AI. They must realise its vast untapped potential and take charge in shaping the present and the future. “Everything invented in the past 150 years will be reinvented using AI within the next 15 years,” says Randy Dean, chief business officer at Sentient Technologies.
Mr Dean should know: by harnessing AI’s potency his San Francisco-based company has disrupted markets, including healthcare, retail, food and financial trading. “Because of AI we are beginning to see seismic advances in health, transport, banking and many other domains,” he says. “Soon AI will be able to predict a heart attack hours, or even days, before you feel it.
“In addition, we are developing a joint venture which we believe is the world’s first AI hedge fund. It uses evolving algorithms created by humans and optimised by machines for trading. Using historical market data, we train our AI to find signals which would take humans 1,000 years to spot.” As part of Tata Communications’ two-day CEO Summit 2016, which began yesterday at Coworth Park near Ascot, Berkshire, Mr Dean was invited to demonstrate the e-commerce AI program Sentient Aware to 60 business leaders.
It allows shoe shoppers to whittle down a catalogue into personal choices with a few swipes, factoring in subtle details such as slope of toe, height of heel and shape of sole. In his provocative welcome note to the summit, Vinod Kumar, chief executive of Tata Communications, writes: “AI is no longer the stuff of science fiction; it is in the mainstream of information technology… We must share our ideas on how to fulfil its potential while guarding against any social and economic disruption.”
Jack Hidary, a session leader at the conference, agrees. “At last we have arrived at the age of machine intelligence. Now we can easily crunch terabytes and petabytes and exabytes of data, and that means AI programs will shoot up the very steep learning curve rapidly. However, I believe we have only seen about one per cent of what AI can ultimately do.
“This summit comes at a critical moment in the evolution of humans and in terms of the development of ourselves as leaders. Every chief executive in the room will come away with the distinct impression that AI will disrupt their industry. It’s up to each leader to choose whether to harness this available power or feel the effects of it from others.”
Delegates are encouraged to interact with a dozen demonstrations that span the gamut of AI technology – in robotics, virtual and augmented reality, gaming, and more. “We showcase shopping-carrying bots, drone racing, plants that can perfect air conditioning, devices that tell you if you’re happy, and there is even a herd of baby robot dinosaurs,” says future technologist and product innovator at Tata Communications David Eden
“AI is relevant today because the processing power required to do useful things with it has hit a level of maturity, and because the other critical building blocks for AI – superfast connectivity and secure cloud computing – are now ubiquitous.” The truth is that in order to take advantage of AI’s possibilities, businesses need a reliable, secure and evolving infrastructure.
Tata Communications, whose network powers almost a quarter of the world’s internet routes and allows people and businesses to reach 240 countries and territories, is well placed to help. “Tata Communications is putting its money where its mouth is, investing in AI, including Sentient, and working hard to understand it, while educating others, as shown by this summit,” Mr Dean says.
“The sooner we can turn on business leaders to the possibilities of how AI could help them, the faster the market can grow. Ultimately, that optimisation of costs, products and services will benefit all of humanity.”
(Source: the Telegraph, 2016)