Smarter: Artificial Intelligence can seem like something in the distant future – is that true?
Ian Aitken: We are already using Artificial Intelligence, but when it gets to the point where it’s accepted, its name changes. So instead of people calling it AI, they call it “facial recognition” or “speech recognition”. Look at autonomous vehicles, adaptive cruise control, assistive driving technology. We don’t call that AI, we call it by its function.
A lot of people think of Artificial Intelligence as this futuristic thing, but we’re using it on a daily basis. My smartphone has more AI in it than I care to think of: image processing, facial recognition, fingerprint sensing, iris detection. If people say they don’t think it’s impactful on their business, they must be using a different definition.
Smarter: What does the near-future look like in AI?
Ian Aitken: Certain businesses are more prone to adaptation of AI within their core. Others may have it as part of the periphery and there may be some that don’t do it at all. We’re already seeing the impact in peripheral areas.
For example, I use a lot of AI technology in my day-to-day work. I sit in front of a computer and, if I’m in a quiet environment, I’ll dictate to it. I do a lot of things via speech and a general office worker can make a great deal of use out of it.
It may be less appropriate for areas with a need for a human to be involved, like acting or nursing, but don’t think of AI in terms of a replacement for a human being. A doctor can only process so much data for a patient – they’ve only got so much time. But an AI system can sift over thousands of elements of data, and work through them simultaneously. The next generation of FitBit-type devices will be medical grade. AI will sit between a human being and a doctor as the third diagnostician, to help bring attention to areas of concern within a large data set.
Smarter: How are businesses already using AI?
Ian Aitken: First, speech recognition. There are two layers of AI in there: one to do the speech itself and then, behind the scenes, the intelligence to process the answer. Second, the filtering and presentation of relevant information based on searches. There’s an awful lot of AI that goes into that – if I buy a widget on eBay, I will in the next few searches see sidebar ads for pretty much the same thing. Most people wouldn’t regard that as AI; they would think of it as “advertising”. Once people become familiar with the function and how it works, they stop calling it AI.
“A lot of people think of Artificial Intelligence as this futuristic thing, but we’re using it on a daily basis. If people say they don’t think it’s impactful on their business, they must be using a different definition.”
Smarter: Will AI change the way we do business in Australia?
Ian Aitken: Simply put: I don’t think AI is going to change a great deal from a consumer perspective. There is some interesting technology that surrounds them, but they probably don’t even know it’s there.
For example, media walls – which would normally display an ad with a beautiful product – are now becoming aware of who’s looking at them. They see a middle-aged man and play him the ad to suit a product they think he will buy. This stuff is a reality now. But in a lot of cases this doesn’t create an insight for the consumer. It’s an insight for the businesses trying to sell to the consumer.
Smarter: What’s your advice to businesses thinking about using technologies like AI?
Ian Aitken: Don’t be afraid that you don’t understand it. Very few people do understand it. You’ve just got to know that it’s there and look for, with an open mind, how it can improve your business outcome. Don’t try to understand it – it’s just too complicated.
Don’t expect to be an expert, or to be surrounded by experts. You’ve got to have decent business rationale behind it, but don’t say no just because you don’t understand it.
Just get on board and push the envelope until you see a couple of successes. Be bold. Go looking for the unknown.