The race to commercialising AI

Dessie Tuck

Did you know that Facebook has recently started using machine learning to teach its chatbots to talk and negotiate amongst themselves (chatbot to chatbot)? And so far, everything indicates that the bots are very good at making deals… in fact, the situation reached a point where the bots were communicating with each other in their own language. Interesting, right?

Life on other planets? NASA is already using AI to look for life on other planets, which will be the key for Mars 2020, the mission where the Red Planet will be explored more thoroughly.

Sounds so out there that you might think, “Yeah, great, but this could take many years to develop”.

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However, according to research, almost three-quarters of consumers have already interacted with artificial intelligence and 69% of them are satisfied about how it went.

At TBT Marketing, there isn’t a day when we are speaking with our clients where AI is not mentioned or somehow part of the mix of products, services and strategy that we help them market and sell.

Looking at the B2C sector: just opening an email from a well-liked brand, visiting the website of a favourite shop, or swiping a loyalty card in-store makes us interact with AI as consumers. In fact, artificial intelligence is so intertwined with our retail experience that we often don’t even realise it’s there. AI is becoming a huge part of shopping, with brands such as Marks and Spencer, Holiday Extras and JD.com adopting AI and machine learning to better interpret data, adapt their experiences to each individual customer and ultimately increase conversion to sales.

On a global level, there is a race to AI domination that is very real and is happening right now. China and the U.S. are competing for first place and Europe is expected to emerge a distant third. The winners in this race will gain enormous economic benefits.

The ‘broad’ AI opportunity

Going back to the consumer, what are their common fears when AI is mentioned? Probably the biggest one is that AI will steal people’s jobs.

For example, M&S is using AI to create efficiencies and redeploying skilled staff elsewhere and a report from the Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford last year forecast 80% of retail jobs are under threat from robotics and AI.

So, is this really happening?

“We’re going to see millions of lower-level frontline data-heavy jobs move over to AI”, says Doug Stephens, retail industry futurist and founder of consultancy, Retail Prophet.

It's not all doom and gloom though! Many perceive AI as more of a saviour than a threat to human employees, as the technology becomes a key resource.

Why? Because AI is much more likely to open up an opportunity by ‘filling in the gaps’ that have traditionally been filled by more manual labour. In fashion, AI can help fashion retailers predict and react more quickly to trends. The technology has the ability to crunch vast amounts of data, from catwalk shows and social media channels such as Instagram to colour and style trends, which designers can use to create collections faster, and merchandisers to plan more efficiently.

Thus, it seems more likely that business sees AI as a way to tackle issues with productivity because AI carries great potential in making every human more productive, rather than putting them out of work.

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Workers who switch from more menial to more skilled work will help the economy in benefitting productivity levels, GDP per capita, etc., creating a big uplift in the overall economic outlook.

Another aspect of introducing AI is that in doing so businesses will try to replicate the long-lost intimacy that the small bricks-and-mortar business had with their customers: a friendly service from a small shop. The knowledge and understanding that these local merchants had about their customers can be reclaimed again using AI to do a lot of the intelligence work that humans did not do in the last few decades. Again, this means not taking existing jobs but making the customer’s experience better.

"It’s about reskilling (and upskilling) the workforce gradually so that generations of workers are more comfortable working in an increasingly digitalised environment."

Commercial AI in action

Under Armour’s UA Record app was built using the IBM Watson Cognitive Computing platform. It is essentially your personal health assistant and coach and provides you with real-time, data-based coaching based on sensor (and manual) input of data for sleep, fitness, activity and nutrition.

Based on sensor functionality, you are encouraged to purchase UA HealthBox devices (like the UA Band and Headphones) that synchronise with the app. According to Under Armour’s 2016 year-end results, revenue for Connected Fitness accessories grew 51 percent to $80 million as a result of using AI technology.

SMEs can no longer afford to ignore AI either. In 2017, it is estimated that the global AI market was worth $2.42 billion; by 2025 it is projected to reach a value of $59.74 billion. AI can deliver a major boost to their business – from this starting point they can then assess the specifics of how to do it. There are AI solutions on the market right now aimed specifically at SMEs that could be used by anyone wanting more sales – they could be a partner in a law firm wanting more clients, for example.

Such platforms and solutions have fixed cost per month per user: for instance, 10 leads per day at £1 a day, which could give each sales person 300 leads a month for £30. Making the sales process more accessible is a great use of AI in small business. At the moment, typically, it’s scaled by throwing more resource at it so small businesses are at a disadvantage at a time when they have to be smarter and more resource efficient.

Don't miss the boat

If you are an SME, you should get on the AI bandwagon sooner rather than later.

How to get started on your own AI application or biz idea?

This year, we at TBT Marketing were involved in helping IBM with their IBM Watson Build Challenge, a global initiative designed to encourage the development of AI solutions on IBM Cloud, using IBM Watson. Here are some words of advice from Paolo Mazza, Marketing and Innovation Director at b.digital, an Italian SME which won last year’s IBM Watson Build Challenge and became the global winner:

  • Start from a real problem, not from the knowledge of a potential big market for your product
  • Think of an industry that has a long-standing problem that hasn’t been solved and that leveraging today's convergence of new technologies can take on
  • Think of using AI technology to help you resolve the issues of cost structure vs pricing
  • Devise technology that tackles global issues
  • Choose an industry that is easy to understand

b.digital developed bioBOTGuard, a solution that uses drone technology and Watson Visual Recognition to help agronomists and farmers save time and money. The solution enables “Precision Farming as a Service” by improving monitoring activities and field operations.

In a wrap

AI is present in every aspect of our lives and there is a great big race happening right now between governments and large businesses for who is going to be crowned the AI winner. Who is going to make the fastest progress in developing, implementing and, of course, increasing profits by using AI?

Here at TBT Marketing we can help you audit and analyse your external and internal environments to create your marketing strategy in order to drive your business forward (which will probably involve using AI too!). And rest assured, using AI won’t make your workforce unemployed!

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