“It’s essential every company takes AI seriously”
Posted: 15 June 2017 | By Darcie Thompson-Fields
The importance of AI is not something any business, in any industry, no matter how big or small can afford to ignore.
This was the message from Dale Beaumont, an Award-Winning Technology Entrepreneur, international speaker, technology adviser and author of 16 best-selling books, who was discussing the importance of AI in business during an exclusive interview with Access AI.
In the below Q&A, Dale, who recently launched BRiN, ‘The World’s First Artificially Intelligent Business Advisor,’ offers his advice on why businesses must now start to think about AI sooner rather than later, tips on getting started and things to be careful about.
“You don’t necessarily need to be playing the [AI] game, but you sure as hell want to be on the side-line and at least in the stadium to know what’s going on”
Hi Dale. 2016 was seen a defining year for AI adoption and awareness. What’s your assessment?
I would say that 2016 was the year that AI came onto people’s agenda in terms of the business community. Any Fortune 500 company is now starting to realise that their business could be majorly disrupted or benefit from AI in some way. But they are all asking the questions of what, how, where, and who does it and trying to put those pieces together.
You speak to business decision makers about AI – what are the key things you discuss?
A lot of it is answering the questions that are on everyone’s lips. What is AI and explaining it in terms they understand. I’ve been to many conferences where everyone is looking at each other in confusion.
I also explain that AI isn’t necessarily all that new and has been deployed and is being used very successfully by many businesses and try to open their minds to the opportunities. I do this by reeling off a series of different examples. A great one is how a cruise liner uses AI to know what nationalities of people are on board, such as how many Australians versus British and Americans. They will use that to create predictive algorithms to determine how many beers and what types of food they should order based on previous data on what sells best and what goes to waste.
“Companies at some point are going to have to think about recruiting an innovation or technology adviser”
What advice do you give to companies thinking about introducing AI into their business for the first time?
I ask them to think about the challenges and problems they face and that they could find a solution under this umbrella we call AI.
Companies at some point are going to have to think about recruiting an innovation or technology advisor that would spend maybe 10 hours a month in their world, either talking to people or exploring articles and blogs in their space and then make recommendations that they would take to the CEO or CTO.
For bigger companies, it’s probably going in and running workshops with senior managers and executives to up-skill them on mass to help them develop these new brain cells so they can see new opportunities that they may be oblivious to right now.
How should companies go about finding the right partner?
There are a lot of companies out there doing all sorts of different things. So, one path that companies can go down is to build the knowledge in house by up-skilling their people – or they could just partner with other companies. The challenge with that is there is a massive knowledge gap between what the service provider can offer and what the companies can articulate. There are people in businesses that are un-educated on this new space and on the other side you have people that are perhaps too intelligent in that field. So, partnerships are a good option.
Is it fair to say that the companies who can afford to build in-house will, whilst those that can’t will go through a service provider?
There is definitely some truth to that, but there is also this big hole in the middle. We’ve had the analogy of ‘cloud as a service’, which is now something all big companies have. They have lots of data and they don’t store them on local hard drives anymore, they store it in the cloud and go through the likes of IBM, Amazon or Microsoft. Basically ‘data as a service’ now exists and there is also talk of ‘AI as service’. All these companies can provide a suite of AI products, which companies can effectively rent from them. For example, the Cognitive Computing Suite from IBM, Microsoft has something similar and Amazon has released a suite of products. But companies are saying,that’s great, but what do we do and how do we use them?
“It’s like feeding your computer a whole bunch of vegetables and asking it to make you a ratatouille”
Is their some confusion on what AI can do?
There is a lot of almost false advertising out there. 12 months ago, I saw an ad for IBM where you see people just having a conversation with Watson. I thought great, I’ll see if I can get a licence for Watson, give it 10,000 business books and then I can just talk to it and get every single business question answered. It’s a bit of a farce. It’s like feeding your computer a bunch of vegetable and telling it to make you a ratatouille. It doesn’t magically happen. It requires a huge amount of thought, understanding and programming. Even though the tools are now available, there is a massive hole where companies don’t know what to do with them. Someone must connect the dots. Is it the vendor? The business? Or is it a third-party company who can charge a fee to connect those dots?
How important is it for decision makers to ramp up their own understanding of the market before deciding what route to take, if any?
A lot of the decisions are driven by the board, CEO’s or whoever is running the finances. If all those people are clueless or maybe just studied AI briefly 20 years ago, and don’t realise how things have changed, they will need to get their head in the books and try and talk to other experts for advice. They can get their heads around websites and apps, but AI sends their brains into meltdown. So, everyone needs to up-skill and to understand the basics. They don’t know what they don’t know. In the same way that you don’t need to understand how a car is made to drive, the same is true for AI. All you need is an understanding of the core concepts at play and a curiosity to want to learn more. My advice: a little information can go a long way.
What is another reason many people have for ignoring AI?
There are a few things around peoples’ own personal fears of change. You either put your head in the sand or deal with it. There is a fear around loss of jobs, which is a real reality.
By 2030 up to 50% of jobs that exist today will be replaced by AI and automation. That’s huge. There are a lot of governments thinking about this. If you want to go back over the past 200 years, we are wealthier than we ever have been before as a global society, and we are healthier than we ever have been before. There’s no sign of that changing. Overall it will make peoples’ lives better. People will become wealthier overall, and people will become healthier and live a better quality of life. There are obviously consequences to that. If people don’t have jobs, what are they going to do? This is where the idea of universal income comes in, which is a way of redistributing wealth from the profits made from the companies that profiteer in major ways from these developments. Then you have the fear of, what if it goes off the rails and does harm and a lot of people are thinking seriously about it.
What would be your message to those people only now starting to think about adopting AI?
It was the great hockey player Wayne Gretzky that one said, “A good hockey player skates to where the puck is. A great hockey player skates to where the puck is going to be”. I would say, that you don’t necessarily need to be playing the game, but you sure as hell want to be on the side-line and at least in the stadium to know what’s going on, and have an understanding. It’s not something you can turn a blind eye to and think ‘this won’t happen to my business’.
It is essential every company takes it seriously. We’re going to experience the biggest change ever over the next 20 years and this change has the ability to make or break companies. If you think about the dot com bubble and the crash, we haven’t seen anything compared to what AI has the power to do in terms of changing entire business landscapes. Therefore, it’s time that business owners (even small ones) begin to understand what is AI and how it can be used in your business.