AI World: A Quick Tour of the Business Case

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AI World: A Quick Tour of the Business Case

Not much tech on day one of AI World, but it was clear that there is a big need for... you. Just because you're using AI doesn't mean you can forget customer interaction.

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AI world was an eclectic collection of business and technical expertise focused on the near future of AI. The conference attracted approximately 2,300 attendees from all over the world. In fact, the first two people I spoke to while waiting in line for my credentials were from Mauritius! (I will definitely try to get a consulting gig there!) This was the second year at the conference and this year, it took place in Boston Back Bay. It was such a success that year three of the conference is in planning and will be in Boston again (at the Seaport) in 2018.

Day 1 started off with the Executive Summit, which was a series of keynotes that described the business terrain and the state of the technology to give a solid foundation for attendees to view and assess the more focused sessions that would come later during the three-day event. Michele Goetz, Principal Analyst at Forrester, started off the session with an almost-Shakespearean "to be (disrupted) or not to be (disrupted)," which is a big part of the coming AI transformation. This was followed directly by a panel discussion which included Dr. William Mark, President of Information & Computing Sciences at SRI International (the same SRI that created the CALO technology that Apple's Siri is built upon). This panel explored some of the more obvious and well-known applications of AI to improve human-computer interactions but then went further to describe the application of AI as a tool for deep business reinvention and how it will reshape many of the core operating principles.

The next session explored the many different areas in which AI could be applied in business today. In this presentation, David Kiron, the Executive Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, gave an overview of some of the unique pitfalls and problems that AI brings with it:

  1. Data scarcity and cleanliness

  2. Organizational changes for development

  3. Talent acquisition and management

The "talent acquisition and management" themes and issues surfaced many times during the conference and should be encouraging to all the developers out there in the DZone audience. A singular point made by many of the speakers was that there are very few skilled technical people on the job market to do the most advanced AI/ML. Various numbers were mentioned, but everyone seemed to agree that less than 10,000 developers worldwide were readily available able to do this type of work. Several exhibitor and sponsor companies at the conference have created higher-level tools and/or services to structure and simplify the AI/ML task, but even so, these tools require AI competent developers to integrate those tool abstraction layers into the multitude of real-world systems and products. To give you a sense of the demand for these positions the average salary for a developer at Google's DeepMind is around $300,000 (and it's been rumored that a few are paid seven figures)! So, it appears that there is plenty of compensation comfort even if you're moving down the technology skill food chain.

Takeaway: Brush up on your AI/ML skills and invest a little time to learn some new ones. It will pay off.

In another one of the Executive Summit presentations, Kjell Carlsson, Senior Analyst at Forrester, spoke about the place where AI shines best: superhuman insight. These are the types of problems where it is physically impossible for a human or even a small group of humans to ingest all of the data necessary in order to identify important but subtle features (i.e. reading ...and remembering... every oncology journal article on chemotherapy). And since ML training works better on very large datasets, these types of applications have a greater chance of success and usefulness.

The balance of the Executive Summit touched on personalization, experiences, and engagement with the customer. While they didn't delve into any technical detail, a common theme was "just because you are using AI doesn't mean you can forget about customer interaction." Scot Whigham, Director Global IT Service Support at InterContinental Hotels Group, spoke a bit about using AI in the hospitality sector to predict the needs and desires of their guests. But he worried that knowing too much about the guest runs the risk of getting creepy. I'm waiting for the next time I take a Toblerone out of the minibar and a concierge avatar appears on my TV saying "Don't worry, Emmett; I've scheduled 20 minutes on the treadmill tomorrow morning in the fitness center."

More on the AI world conference in the next article...

ai, ai adoption, ai world, conference

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