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The Artificial Intelligence Around Us
By Keith S

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a term we’ve all heard frequently within the last few years.  We’re going to hear it more and more, and for many years to come. To put it simply, AI is the ability of machines to work and react like human beings. Some capabilities include speech recognition, problem solving, learning and planning. Within the technology industry, AI has become a priority and a focus for many companies. Here are some numbers to showcase the importance of AI:
– Based on a Narrative Science Survey, in 2016 approximately 38% of the enterprises had already used AI and by 2018 the number is projected to be 62%
– Forrester Research expects an increase of 300% in investment into AI in 2017 compared to 2016
– IDC predicts the AI market will grow from $8 billion in 2016 to higher than $47 billion in 2020

The use of AI can be found throughout our daily lives. We have become so accustomed to these technologies that we almost don’t even notice them.  Here are some AI uses which you may not be familiar with:

1. Speech Recognition:  One of the most common and well-known AI technologies. This technology converts human speech into useful and recognizable information for computer applications. Speech Recognition made an immense leap forward in the mobile industry with the power of having voice responsive systems answering to the users’ needs and commands. Examples of this technology includes: Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Google’s Google Now.

2. Virtual Agents:  ‘Chat box’ features allow users to communicate with an employee from the company to ask questions or request help solving a problem. These messaging systems respond to customers immediately, as opposed to having them wait in phone queues or going through emails. In the AI version of these, the ’employee’ on the other side is not a human but a virtual agent or an online support bot. The bot can provide automated responses pulled from the website itself and present it to the customer when required. This technology is useful for consumers, in that they save time, but the company also benefits from decreased labor costs and using resources for more effective future initiatives. Examples of companies providing the chat box feature are: Hewlett – Packard (HP), Nordstrom, and Toys R Us.

3. Smart Cars: This does not refer to the ultra-compact car sold at Mercedes Benz dealerships.  There are cars that are capable of driving humans around! The AI vesion of the Smart Car hasn’t completely emerged into our daily lives but it is getting close. Tesla’s ‘auto pilot’ feature, for example, is featured throughout social media and the news for their smart car advancement. Another prime example is  the Google’s project to create a self-driving car. Google hopes their cars will have the full human perspective of driving without the human error. The AI technology is working on ‘teaching’ the process of having the car look at the road ahead and make decisions based on what it sees.

4. Purchase Prediction:  Retailers haven’t completely figured out how to anticipate what the end customer needs but they are getting close.  Imagine the amount of revenue if, or when, they succeed! In terms of purchasing goods online, targeted advertisements are very common – so common that regular online users often fail to recognize them.  When you search online for a particular item such as an iPad, soon ads relating to iPads will be found on your Google and Facebook profiles. The ads are created with algorithms in place that recognize when an item has been searched, and respond by populating feeds with related ads.  Amazon is currently working on a shipping project which is focused on sending you items before you need them, to eliminate your last-minute shopping online.  The e-commerce giant is planning to use an algorithm based-system which extracts data from the customer’s prior activity within the website. The algorithm will use data such as shopping cart activity, duration of view, time on the website, links clicked on and hovered over and wish lists to predict the shopper’s next move.  Lastly, Loblaw’s does a brilliant job in this area with their PC Points application. Loyal shoppers use their PC Points card when making their purchases. The application provides the customer with weekly offers tailored to their shopping history.  When the customer is considering where to shop, they see that their Loblaws store is offering them deals on products they normally buy. By handing out points for items habitually purchased, the company does a stellar job in locking their customer into returning to shop at their locations.  

5. Recommendation Services: Spotify, Netflix, and Pandora are programmed to recommend songs or videos for customers. When a user signs up to either of the applications, they are asked to answer a few questions to help the system understand their preferences. However, as the user spends time on the application, the AI system collects data from choices that are made. By monitoring the user’s choices, the applications can easily provide recommendations suited for the user.

As you can see AI can be very powerful. How powerful you may ask? Well, recently Facebook shut down their AI project after developers found the AI had constructed its own language. The researchers from  FAIR (Facebook’s Artificial Intelligence Research) Lab discovered the chatbots were slowly progressing away from the instructed code. The chatbots gravitated toward communication in their own language, without any human intervention. Powerful but also frightening! In years to come AI is expected to be more and more embedded within our daily lives.  Should we be excited, or terrified? Let’s talk about it!

About the Author:

Keith Sivanesan recently completed his commerce degree in Business Technology Management at Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University. He is interested in both the Business Analysis and Project Management fields and enjoys volunteering for the CIO association.

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