Forget ‘Intel inside’ – it’s AI inside (and Alexa outside)!

Forget ‘Intel inside’ – it’s AI inside (and Alexa outside)!

‘Intel Inside’ must be one of the most powerful and pervasive straplines in computing. It’s the slogan that turned Intel into the world’s dominant PC chip supplier. To me – and to countless millions of consumers around the globe – it is the marque of quality that we look for in every PC purchase.

But it is about to be superseded. In the future, I think there will be an even more important and persuasive strapline: ‘AI inside’…

We have virtually reached the point where ALL future apps will contain an element of AI. That’s why I firmly believe that ‘AI inside’ will soon become the strapline of preference driving our device-buying choices. What’s more, I also predict that Alexa will become the de facto Automatic Speech Recognition platform…in the future, it will sit in front of (or, to be more accurate, outside) every single app we use (check out my previous article for more insights).

But where’s the evidence to underpin these bold assertions? Well, there are a number of factors that help to build a pretty compelling case…

First, you need to recognise that AI is not one singular, all-embracing technology. Instead, it is a set of technologies that emulate the way a human interprets and acts upon stored and received information. The only difference – and here’s the really impressive fact – it accomplishes this feat at the speed of light, without (human) error and on an unflagging 24 x 7 basis. Aided by such technologies as natural language (voice) processing, semantic analysis and cognitive processing (and others), AI can already out-think and out-perform humans.
Second, you might be just as impressed to learn how pervasive some of these technologies have now become. At Davos, the CEO of IBM announced that Watson (a supercomputer kitted out with a collection of AI APIs) is now having a very positive impact on the lives of some 1 billion people. To put that in context, 1/7th of the world’s population is already benefitting from AI. And when you add to that the tens of millions of global Echo and Dot sales (each one offering access to Amazon Alexa), you begin to appreciate just how many people are now using voice recognition and NLP.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, you don’t need to have a degree in AI to deploy AI…

AI was notionally conceived by Alan Turing in 1936 (indeed, some people trace the origins of AI right back to Archimedes!). I was taught the rudimentary elements of AI at University, in the early 1970s, but I had to wait more than twenty years for my first chance to develop an AI app…

A radical new challenge

In the mid-90s, I was working as a consultant to the Nationwide Building Society. We had just finished a ground-breaking project – the development and deployment of the world’s first touch-screen, customer self-service system. It had proved so successful that my visionary client decided to push the envelope with a radical new challenge…

“How far can you take this idea?” he asked. “Could you, for example, develop a system that’s as good as – or even better than – our best sales person?”

Without knowing it, he was challenging me to develop our first AI system. Fortunately, since I am certainly not an AI expert, Accenture had just hired a world authority on the subject. He was swiftly assigned to my project team and we stepped once more into the unknown world of innovation.

We started by gathering together a team of the client’s top sales people. We sat them down with our AI expert who had been carefully briefed on the rules governing the sale of regulated products. We also called in the services of a UX designer to create a way of better understanding of people’s risk appetites and option requirements. And last, but certainly not least, we asked a group of customers to help us develop the system that would be designed for their stand-alone use.

The final result blew everyone away. It even won the support of the FSA who agreed to assess the system for compliance. They tested and analysed every aspect of the new application… and then they signed it off. This was the first time they had ever approved a sales platform that entirely removed the need for a sales person.

Real innovation is often too radical for risk-averse management

Remember, this happened in the early 90s – long before Java, Windows 95, and the first PlayStation were launched. It is a tribute to a client who not only had the vision to see the possibilities but also the courage to take on the challenge… and the very real risk of failure.

However, there is a sad but rather revealing postscript to this story. What happened to this ground-breaking system? Well, it was lauded, feted and widely acclaimed… and then quietly shelved. The building society decided to focus on building its Systems of Record (SoR) rather than its Systems of Engagement (SoE). And, sad-to-say, that was not an uncommon fate back then. Real innovation is often too radical for most risk-averse management to stomach. Sometimes it takes time to build an appetite for the truly ground-breaking. And maybe – just maybe – twenty years later, that time has now come…

But there was another problem. I only had one AI programmer at my disposal and there were precious few of them in the UK at that time. Given this constraint, it would have taken an age to build an industrial strength application that we could put into the hands of a customer. But, thankfully, that is now a problem of the past – this is the new age of the possible…

Just 5 days to design and build!

One of the firms we represent is a totally technology-agnostic AI consultancy. They conceive, design and build customer and employee apps that use a variety of AI technologies. They simply pick the right set of AI tools for the job.

This consultancy was recently tasked, by a loyalty card operator, to prove that AI could quickly answer a customer’s queries without ever having to talk to a human or to scour through FAQs (which are loathed and often next to useless).

Their solution was to create a web-based chat bot. They used Watson to help recognise and understand the question and another product to drive the Q&A process that rapidly solves the customer’s query. And believe me, this is one clever bot! It can easily handle misspellings and accurately interpret questions that are phrased in multiple different ways – including street slang and jargon. I estimate that this tool could handle at least 25% of all customer queries – and that adds up to a massive cut in the number of calls that need to be routed through to a human.

So, how many days of effort did it take our AI consultancy to design and build this AI-driven chat bot? Well, you will probably be astonished to learn the answer: just five man days to design and build a tool that could potentially reduce call centre volumes by around 25%.

That’s why I am convinced AI has truly arrived. It is the ‘now’ technology. It’s simple to deploy (if you have the expertise). And that leaves just one question to answer: where, inside your enterprise, are you going to deploy AI?

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