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Murray Shanahan, professor of cognitive robotics at Imperial College London said that artificial intelligence (AI) is the latest fashion in an industry that is known for them: “Larry Ellison famously said that there is nothing more fashion led than the IT industry. We can see AI as a new fashion, rebadging a load of old ideas, but essentially technology has always been about adding value to an organisation.”

David Schatsky, head of the trend-sensing program for the US innovation team at Deloitte is a little more positive, saying: “I have looked at literally hundreds of examples of organisations in every industry that have applied or are piloting cognitive technologies in some way. We’ve found that you can classify everything into one of these three buckets of applications: product, process and insight.”

Use cases

Schatsky broke down all three, starting with product: “By this I mean embedding cognitive [computing] into a product or a service that touches a customer and delivers some sort of benefit.” Product recommendations from Amazon are an example of this.

Process: “This involves applying these technologies inside an organisation to automate some process to make it faster, more scalable, more cost effective.” Schatsky gave an example of an internal deployment at Deloitte where they developed a document review application which uses natural language processing and machine learning to recognise key terms.

Insight: “This is about extracting insight from vast unstructured data sets that are beyond the capability of traditional analytics. Intel uses a machine learning system to analyse its customer’s buying behaviour and to recommend to its human sales force who to call and when, to help them close business.” According to Schatsky: “Intel says that just this one application, they feel, would generate $20m of revenue by making their sales people more efficient.”

Usage examples

In terms of use cases from the summit itself, most companies said they are still in the phase of considering or piloting AI solutions.

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Jonathan Catling, director global data architecture at the hotel and casino operator Las Vegas Sands Corporation said that: “AI has been so far from my memory I can’t remember the last time I looked at neural networks. But when I started to look into it a bit deeper AI is the next thing.”

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Catling spoke about a customer ordering room service though a Facebook-native chatbot installed on a tablet in the room or through your smartphone. He says: “I was talking about chatbots two years ago, now I am looking at using them and getting a proof of concept.”

“We started with a chatbot as a means of communication that they feel comfortable with. We don’t want to send an SMS or an email. So any time, anywhere and take one step into the customer's comfort zone […] The conversation is the key to the customer, they’re not interested in the technology but the chat.”

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Catling talks about the next phase of AI being proactive: “The next step for AI is when the AI system actually rings you, sends you an email, sends you a message.” He gives the example of the AI recognising that 300 jazz fans are arriving at the hotel and suggests that the hotel books Jamie Cullum to play a concert there that weekend. “That’s where this, the next time we get together, I hope we will start to see as well.”

Similarly, Jordi Escale, CIO for the Government of Catalonia said that his reaction to being invited to an AI Summit was: “That’s a new thing. I don’t have great examples or results, we are just thinking about it.”

Escale is considering the opportunities of AI in conjunction with IBM Watson already, including the impact on services in government such as "traffic control and autonomous vehicles".

"We are actually starting and defining projects around the possibilities of those technologies. In safety, I can’t speak too much, but real time facial image recognition and number plate recognition for the police,” he says.

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Nicola J. Millard, group head of customer insight and futures at BT on the other hand says that BT has been using some form of AI inside the company for decades, especially in its contact centres. “I was hired into BT back in 1990 off of the first wave of excitement about AI and expert systems and I was all too happy to look at how we can apply neural networks into businesses.”

IBM Watson

The headline sponsor for the summit, IBM, is arguably among the most advanced tech vendors aiming to to get AI capabilities into the hands of business customers.

David Schatsky from Deloitte spoke about how IBM is finally shifting away from simply pointing its AI capabilities at gaming. First there was Deep Blue defeating Garry Kasparov at chess in the 1990s, and then Watson defeating Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings at US game show Jeopardy in 2011. Not to mention Google’s AlphaGo beating Lee Sedol at the Chinese board game Go earlier this year.

Schatsky said: “Most of us don’t work in the gaming industry, so my question to start is how we translate these undeniably important achievements to the world the rest of us live in and create value for the business. That’s why we are here and what I have been able to piece together so far is that it is a journey and we are going to go on it together.”

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Paul Chong, director of Watson Group, EMEA, said that this is where IBM is now with Watson: “We want to get to this stage where you simplify the use of the technology to the point where you actually put it in the hands of the business owners. So we're creating the cognitive platform to be the API economy of choice for you to build cognitive systems. We’re making this open. We believe there are a huge number of opportunities and I think about the number of clients we are working with and it is varied.

“Our hopes and aspirations are that the platform Watson, or others in terms of AI will start to be infused through the API economy with all business processes. It won’t be just the client or for the decision maker, it will be open to all.”

The hype around AI isn’t necessarily overstated, and the technology certainly appears to be on the crest of something, but many of the attendees of the AI Summit may feel they were a year too early to start really seeing the benefits of cognitive computing and neural networks in the enterprise.