Has AI really lived up to the hype? 

In many cases AI is changing the world. Nikolas Kairinos talks about the evolution of AI and the prospects on the horizon for society Artificial intelligence, or AI, should hardly be considered a new innovation. After all, the field of AI is almost 70 years old. The foundations for AI and machine learning (ML) were laid down during the Second World War, when British computer scientist Alan Turing and his team created the Bombe machine to decipher ‘Enigma’ codes used by the German forces to send messages securely. It was only in 1956, however, that the term ‘artificial intelligence’ was first adopted at the Dartmouth Conference, after which research centres surfaced across the US and UK to explore the potential of this technology. But, despite its rich history, it is in the 21st century that we have really begun to see some meaningful developments. For one, investors are funding billions into AI research to support the rapid rise of startups seeking to develop new AI capabilities. In 2017, London’s AI companies benefitted from over £200 million of investment; a year-on year increase of over 50%. The trend was mirrored nationally. In total, AI companies raised almost £500 million – more than double the amount raised a year prior. On a global level, the picture is similar. According to a recent report by McKinsey Global Institute, AI could contribute additional global economic activity worth around $13 trillion by 2030, by which point around 70% of companies will have adopted at least one form of AI. Fuelled by vast global funding for research and development, the hype that surrounds AI is unavoidable. But what is the current state of AI – and is it in a position to actually live up to the hype? The hype cycle The AI revolution is hardly in its infancy; however, there is also a long way to go before AI is affordable and accessible enough for widespread adoption. Like with any other new technology, it will take time for the market to mature; we have seen this transition play out when business intelligence, cloud computing and big data first became available en masse. The Gartner Hype Cycles offers a helpful illustration of the maturity and adoption of technologies. Most recently, the August 2018 ‘hype cycle’ plotted the progression of certain aspects of the broader AI market, giving an insight into how industries are adapting to this tech. At one end of the cycle – the so-called ‘innovation trigger’ stage – we have emerging technologies, many of which are generating discussion in the media but are still largely obscure to the everyday person. These include 4D printing and 5G. Deep Neural Nets (Deep Learning) and Virtual Assistants have already reached the second stage, the ‘peak of inflated expectations.’ Here, highly publicised projects offer embellished projections of what society will look like once these innovations are widely adopted – everyday responsibilities will become easier to manage, our businesses will become more profitable, and we’ll have much more time on our hands to focus on more pressing tasks. This peak is driven largely by the media, which showcases success stories and benchmarks the realms of possibility that new technologies offer. It’s no surprise that this stage is quickly followed by a downward curve, or the ‘trough of disillusionment’, when the public and organisations become increasingly frustrated that the technology has not delivered on the scale anticipated. AI has invariably followed this common pattern that all emerging technologies go through. Vendors sell promises of ‘game-changing’ solutions that actually turn out not to be as sophisticated or remarkable as they were initially made out to be. That’s not to say that the potential of AI and deep learning has diminished. Obstacles have naturally been met along the way, but these technologies are poised to deliver huge cost-saving and efficiency benefits in the long-term if we remain patient and continue to push the boundaries of these solutions. Will AI take over our jobs? The fear mongering element of AI has certainly played on the minds of consumers, employees and organisations alike. As computers become more sophisticated and their capabilities grow, a headline we commonly see in the press is – will humans be pushed out of their jobs? The simple answer here is, no. People often fear the worst-case scenario, but in fact I believe that technology is only making people better and more effective at their jobs. For one, AI largely removes the need for us to complete tedious and time-consuming tasks; routine queries from customers, for instance, can easily be attended to by a chatbot or virtual personal assistants (VPAs). Indeed, with AI increasingly making its way into the workplace, chatbots and VPAs are now augmenting human performance in many organisations. And Gartner predicts that by 2021, 70% of organisations will assist their employees’ productivity by integrating these tools into daily business operations. Nevertheless, human involvement in AI is paramount to its success. The combination of people and AI – a collaborative intelligence – is far more powerful than either of these on their own. By relegating routine tasks to AI tools, people will have more time to dedicate to tasks that can add real value to their organisations (or their own lives). The current state of AI It’s easy to think that this innovation hasn’t lived up to the hype if we’re following the futuristic predictions of robots and flying cars commonly seen in the movies. But in many cases, AI is already changing the world – oftentimes, these changes have so seamlessly transitioned into our daily lives that we have barely noticed them. Here are some examples. Retail Naturally, companies within the retail space are at different stages of adoption when it comes to AI. But that doesn’t mean this technology isn’t drastically re-shaping the market in terms of how we buy, sell and market products. The e-commerce industry, for instance, has witnessed explosive growth in recent years; data from Statista predicts that there will be a 246.1% increase in global sales from $1.3 trillion in 2014 to a massive $4.5 trillion in 2021. Everyone will be familiar with massive retailers like ASOS, which is pioneering the online fashion industry. Indeed, e-commerce has changed the game when it comes to how the everyday person discovers and procures their next purchase. As foot traffic in physical stores declines, more people are turning to convenient forms of shopping where they don’t have to spend hours trawling up and down clothing aisles. Meanwhile, businesses are increasingly relying on AI product recommendations to add a level of personalisation that isn’t on offer in a physical store environment. In fact, among retailers surveyed recently by SLI Systems that are already using or planning to use AI, the most popular applications include those that support personalised product recommendations (56%), apps to handle customer service requests (41%) and chatbots (35%). A personalised shopping experience is clearly high on the list of priorities for retailers. And companies like ASOS and Amazon are showcasing exactly how AI is able to cater to changing consumer demands. Thanks to machine learning site-search algorithms, statistical programming and predictive analysis of large data sets, these e-commerce platforms are able to recommend products that are tailored specifically to a person’s individual preferences – all by tracking their online browsing history. Finance The finance industry has typically been ahead of the curve when it comes to experimenting with new technology. ‘FinTech’ has arguably been one of the most popular buzzwords of the past decade, signalling the speed of transformation taking place within the sector. AI tools are on hand to offer constructive solutions to problems like risk management. Over a quarter (26%) of asset and wealth manager firms already rely on AI to inform big decisions according to PWC, with this figure only set to rise as the technology becomes more sophisticated. The foundation of this capacity to inform decisions lies in AI’s unparalleled ability to process vast amounts of information in short periods of time; it can scan and interpret news stories, broker reports and market sentiments from across the internet in a matter of seconds and make recommendations derived from powerful predictive models. The human experts then decide how to use that information. One firm taking advantage of this solution is BlackRock. The global investment management corporation built an operating system that connects people and technology to manage money in real time. The AI-powered solution, Aladdin, combines sophisticated risk analytics with comprehensive portfolio management, trading and operations tools on a single platform. Not only does this facilitate more informed decision-making, it also makes risk management and trading infinitely more efficient. Learning through AI AI is changing society at the most fundamental level – including how we teach our children and learn new skills ourselves. Long gone are the days of relying solely on in-class learning and textbooks. We are already witnessing the power of AI and machine learning to communicate information in a more effective and engaging manner, tailoring to the abilities and preferences of each student. The ability of this technology to automatically learn and improve from experience means that digital platforms are able to understand what method of teaching is generating the best response, and thereafter cater to the user’s unique learning styles. Through continued use, an EdTech platform might learn that a particular student responds best to visual stimulation – so it will find diagrams, pictures, and videos to illustrate the key points and make the learning experience more interesting and tailored. Importantly, this isn’t limited to the remit of the classroom. Virtual classrooms and e-learning now give students who are unable to attend school the same access to education as a child sitting in a traditional classroom setting. Meanwhile, these tools are being used by working professionals seeking to learn a new skill outside of the office – whether this is learning a guitar or picking up a new language. The future of AI Despite the huge progress that has already been made in this field, we’re still at the early stages of innovation. And naturally, as these AI tools proliferate throughout the market and become available to organisations large and small, we will no doubt continue to see the enormous benefits that these technologies offer. The impact of AI and its adoption is evidently not linear – but we cannot deny that it is making a drastic difference to the way society operates. Over time, these changes will continue to make our lives just that little bit less complicated. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Nikolas Kairinos is the CEO and Founder of Fountech.ai – a company specialising in the development and delivery of intelligent AI solutions for businesses and organisations. Nikolas also has over 20 years’ experience supporting software startups around the world as an entrepreneur, investor and advisor, and has also co-founded numerous AI companies.
The combination of people and AI – a collaborative intelligence – is far more powerful than either of these on their own