The Artificial Intelligence Panacea?

The Artificial Intelligence Panacea?

Looking at my analyst barometer… if 2016 was all about digital then 2017 is all about artificial intelligence. Something big is happening when scholars, analysts, CEO hot shots, and doom mongers talk it up/ talk it down all over news-feeds and media. Some of the commentary is Elon Musk scary; some of it Steven Hawking cautionary but there is no doubt that the AI message has cut through — AI is super-hot in enterprise work and for all things innovation.

We’re finding artificial Intelligence cropping up more and more in conversations with clients. I recommend getting a handle on it by watching our latest Snapshot Event live from the Nordics (and I doff my hat to the Swedes by limiting the entire session to one hour). The session walks through AI from three perspectives: the academic view, the business view, and the practitioner view (Cognizant) and it’s well worth the watch. Straight off we heard how AI and automation differ. Automation is safe, contained and rather prosaic compared with its edgier/sexier AI brother. Automation is preprogrammed, static and rule-based (it does what it says on the tin) whereas AI is self-learning, dynamic and unpredictable (who knows what you will get back because it’s not predictable).

One particular presentation caught my eye from a local company called Furhat. The company focuses on “social AI” and has developed a range of talking heads that mimic, err, people, like you know, talking? On the stage the presenter had a talking head co-presenting alongside him. The talking head went all Martin Luther King on its bemused Swedish audience with its “I have a dream” speech which made me smile (check it out). These talking heads or mannequins aren’t that new—there is a famous hotel in Tokyo (where else) that checks-in guests and distributes room passes from what’s really a truncated mannequin with built in Siri. However what Furhat has done is put social intelligence at the core of its applications—so in social situations it detects vocal tone, pitch, movements etc. and sees if you are a person/customer/user that’s inquisitive, friendly, smiling or about to lose it, Travis Bickles style. And according to the presenter, they’ve made inroads with Honda, Merck and Disney, while a couple of schools in the Stockholm area have begun pilots to create “study buddies”” for pupils.

So the talking head is fun and if I squint my eyes I can see it being used in shopping, education and healthcare. However, as the panel attested too, there is a serious shift to AI happening much more rapidly than expected. Healthcare is moving particularly fast with IBM Watson and an array of AI initiatives under Google Alphabet pushing hard to drive intelligence from the array of personal data available (feeds from fitness wearables, sensors, personal apps like MinDoktor’s  presented at the Snapshot event) in order to improve outcomes for patients.

Perhaps the reason it’s moving so fast is that we’ve reached a degree of (digital) maturity among our economies and societies. We all recognize that value increasingly resides in the blend between the virtual and the physical—software is indeed eating the world. But I wonder if AI is a coping mechanism to deal with the explosion of sensor data that’s starting to pump insight about all of us as customers, or the processes that touch the products and services we make and consume, or the value chains that our companies and industries operate within. Perhaps the real issue is this: we are generating way more data than our 20th-century systems and processes can cope with. AI is forcing itself upon us for the simple reason that we cannot process any more data while the relentless demand for new products, new services, mass customisation and next-generation experiences shows no sign of abating…

PS. Check out our recently minted book What to Do When Machines Do Everything because its spot-on if like me, you are watching the analyst barometer. The upshot is don’t worry about AI and what can happen in the next 20 years but focus on what you can make happen in the next 20 months. The book tells you how.


Euan Davis
Associate Vice President at Cognizant Technology Solutions

Euan has guided many Fortune 500 firms into the dynamics surrounding business, technology and sourcing with his thought-provoking research and advisory skills. At Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work, Euan examines how work is changing in response to the emergency of new technologies, new business practices and new workers.