2018 is the year of AI

If the history of human advancement has taught us one thing it is that genuine step-change does not occur because of a single technology breakthrough, but a combination of complimentary factors coming together at the same time.

This couldn’t be truer than when it comes to artificial intelligence (AI), the oft hyped technology of 2017 which is set to become the reality of 2018 and beyond.

While AI has been around for more than 65 years, it is only with the convergence of three important factors that we will see AI move from concept to an increasingly ubiquitous reality in the year ahead.

The three major factors at play include: big data, brought about by the prevalence of internet-connected devices which has seen data become the new oil; cloud computing which is democratising technology and accelerating innovation by giving everyone access to computing power like never before; and, finally breakthroughs in software algorithms and machine learning than can identify sophisticated patterns within data and act on them.

If we look to the year ahead, we believe AI will be used by most companies for at least some part of the value chain either in research and development, design, logistics, manufacturing, servicing or customer engagement. In fact, leading IT industry analyst IDC believes that by 2019, 40 per cent of digital transformation initiatives globally will be supported by AI capabilities.

You do not need to be a start-up or hi-tech company to embrace the possibilities of AI, just the vision and commitment to make it happen.

Two prime examples of this in Australia are Bruce and Lucy the University of Canberra’s two chatbots for students and staff respectively.

The chatbots learn from questions they are asked and using information gathered from the world around them, respond with an answer. As with all AI technologies, the chatbots are constantly learning and improving as they interact with the world around them.

In the corporate world, ASX-listed, Pact Group has developed a proof-of-concept solution to enhance workplace safety using AI. Its Workroom Kiosk Demo can identify individual employees in a workshop or site environment, detect if the correct safety equipment is being worn and monitor workplace behaviour based on an understanding of the tasks and tools the individual is authorised to perform. Team leaders are then automatically alerted to potential issues so they can mitigate against them.

As we enter the new year, I see four key AI developments happening over the next 12 months that will start to cement AI’s use in Australia:

1. Mass adoption of AI: AI adoption is set to soar in 2018 and beyond, when organisations begin to see the clear benefits of AI already being reaped by innovators such as the University of Canberra and Pact Group. IDC forecasts that worldwide AI revenues will surge past US$46 billion in 2020. Closer to home, AI investment in Asia Pacific is predicted to grow to US$6.9 billion by 2021..

2. Ubiquitous Virtual Assistants: We will begin to see the adoption of broadscale AI in the form of conversational AI chatbots, like those developed at the University of Canberra, in both consumer and business scenarios. In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2020 more than 85% of customer interactions with the enterprise will be managed without a human and AI will be the key technology deployed for customer service.

3. Democratising data and decision-making: In a world where more data exists than ever before, the ability to deliver meaningful business insights from that data to the maximum number of relevant employees becomes of paramount importance. AI will be the key technology for making this happen by bringing together data from employees, business apps, and the world.

4. Building trusted foundations for AI: There will be increasingly more discussions between government and industry to create formal governance and regulations in the use of AI. We saw these discussions with the onset of eCommerce and the advent of cloud technologies. It is critical for transparent public-private conversations to take place as they will shape how AI can benefit economies and societies in a fair, transparent and trusted way.

The future of AI burns brightly and I see 2018 as the year that will establish a solid foundation for the mass adoption of this exciting and vital technology.

Steve Worrall is Managing Director, Microsoft Australia

Originally posted on The Australian

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