Meet some of the companies that are harnessing the incredible power of artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) is no longer a futuristic concept found in science fiction films – it is today’s technology. The power and capabilities it offers are growing, creating a future filled with possibility.

The potential of AI was showcased at a Microsoft event in London recently. Journalists, scientists and researchers heard from Microsoft spokespeople such as Harry Shum, Executive Vice-President of Microsoft AI and Research Group, and Chris Bishop, Laboratory Director at Microsoft Research Cambridge.

Among the announcements, including Microsoft’s AI for Earth initiative, a number of companies spoke about how they are using the power of AI to drive innovation.

Below is a profile of each company:

Dixons Carphone

Dixons Carphone – one of the UK’s largest electrical retailers – discovered that around 90% of its customers start their shopping journey online, and 65% use their mobile phones to assist them while shopping in the store.

The company, which also owns Currys and PC World, has used Microsoft’s Bot Framework to build an AI bot called Cami into its customer interactions in Facebook Messenger. “It’s amazing how quickly the whole thing came together,” says Antonia Colin-Jones, Strategic Partnership Program Manager, Dixons Carphone.

“We didn’t need to build any special functionality to connect the bot to our product catalogue and stock data – we just used existing feeds. We did spend a fair bit of time deciding on branding and personality for our bot… she’s mildly geeky and quite confident, and she’s there to help customers navigate the world of technology.”

Dixons Carphone programmed Cami with information from its online buying guide and colleague training materials to help guide customers to the right product. The information is already available through the company’s website, but allowing people to interact with her allows them to search for products and have their questions answered in a more natural way.

Dixons Carphone has also built a feature called Wishlist that works with Cami. Customers can add items to a list while shopping online at home, and save the search criteria they used. Staff can then pull that up in the store, see what the customer was looking for, and help direct them to that product or to other products they might like.

Once deployed, analytics from Microsoft will be able to help improve the service further, in a new form of business intelligence. If the majority of customers are, for example, asking very similar questions, it will help improve future communications and messaging. 

Sabre

As the largest Global Distribution Systems provider for airline bookings in North America, Sabre is a key part of millions of journeys across the globe every day. The company, based in Southlake, Texas, powers mobile apps, airport check-in kiosks, online travel websites, airline and hotel reservation networks, travel agent terminals, aircraft and crew scheduling systems, and scores of other solutions.

Sabre has been using Microsoft’s Cognitive Services and Bot Framework to develop a chatbot for travel agencies. Travellers will interact with the bot via Facebook Messenger to address service and support questions related to flight reservations. This frees up staff to deal with more complex issues that customers face.

Thanks to Microsoft’s Language Understanding Intelligent Service, Sabre’s customers can speak to the bots in a conversational way that does not require knowledge of specific commands.

“Travellers are looking to technology to bring a more seamless experience, especially when it comes to managing disruptions and on-the-go changes,” said Mark McSpadden, Vice-President of Emerging Technology and Products at Sabre. “Together with Microsoft, we are exploring the role that AI and chatbots can have in providing travelers with the autonomy they want for routine requests while helping travel suppliers provide more personal service for more complex needs.”

Sabre believes the bot project will increase convenience for travelers, drive productivity and reduce costs for its corporate and travel agency customers.

Cochrane

Cochrane is a non-governmental organisation that gathers and summarizes healthcare data to help anyone in the sector make better decisions.

Comprised of researchers, professionals, patients, carers and people interested in health, the organisation uses Microsoft’s intelligence services in an initiative called Project Transform. This allows Cochrane to manipulate and analyse data very efficiently, dramatically decreasing the time it takes for systemic reviews in healthcare, improving decision-making and, ultimately, helping patients.

Those reviews typically summarise all the best available research evidence to inform decision making in the healthcare sector. One review looked at research that was carried out on the effect of steroids in the lungs of premature babies. Healthcare professionals found that giving steroids saved the lives of premature babies.

Typical reviews can contain around 20,000 citations, which can take two to three years for a team of people to manually work their way through. The artificial intelligence in Project Transform can be trained to help teams work through citations at a much faster rate, allowing them to focus on other areas where they are needed.

This is a strong example of how AI and technology are organically integrating with human skills.

Prism Skylabs

Prism Skylabs is a San Francisco-based company that connects existing cameras within businesses to cloud-based AI technology and machine learning tools, transforming them into powerful business intelligence tools.

The fact that companies can make use of their existing camera equipment is a big plus, negating the need for costly installations and disruption.

Prism Skylabs’ software, powered by Microsoft’s Cognitive Services, allows video recordings to be intelligently “sliced up”, highlighting important segments and capturing important data in the process.

This data can then be intelligently stored, analysed, and used in a number of ways – the value of the system comes from unlocking hidden information in videos: from automatically detecting when inventory items are running low for hassle-free re-ordering, to detecting possible hazards in a construction site, plus more.

“In the past, implementing machine learning and AI on your own would have required a team of PhDs. Plus there would be the cost of the server hardware and infrastructure necessary to process the vast amount of information stored in raw video from potentially hundreds or even thousands of cameras across a large organisation,” said Prism Skylabs Chief Executive Steve Russell.

“We found Microsoft Cognitive Services to be the missing piece in the equation, the one that we needed to bring this solution to market and really revolutionize the way people look at video. There’s no money in the world that can buy the value of having an industry leader like Microsoft as a technology partner. That’s very exciting for us.