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Artificial Intelligence

October 10, 2018

Will the benefits outweigh the risks?

Artificial Intelligence and Big Data are already penetrating our lives in ways we don’t even realise – from making recommendations in retail, to managing traffic and medical diagnoses. There is a natural concern that AI will cause unemployment in the workforce, with retail and manufacturing set to be two of the industries most affected.

However, a recent McKinsey survey revealed that 51% of job activities can be automated, only 5% of jobs can be replaced.

We spoke to former Amazon CEO, Brian McBride, and communications analyst, Dave Michels, and asked them what they think are the risks and the opportunities with artificial intelligence.

As a tech veteran, McBride says he has lived through Moore’s Law, seeing the move from mainframes down to mobile phones, so is excited about what has been done in a positive sense, but is aware of the risks.

“I’ve seen the scientific changes of the micro process, but also behavioural changes. It is, as Darwin observes, ‘not the strongest species that survive, it’s not the fastest, it’s the most adaptable’. It’s those who are aware of what’s going on in their environment. And if you look at the history of digital and technology over the past 30-40 years, some great companies just missed out on that theory.”

From Kodak to Blockbusters, industry is littered with companies that simply failed to adapt quickly enough. McBride states that the pace of change is only going to accelerate and acknowledges that not everyone is going to survive.  His advice to companies considering integrating AI is to simply get started.

“Even if your data set is not that big, you’ve got to get the machine starting to learn, and iterate, and so it’s never too early to start.  Customers are throwing off huge amounts of data, about themselves every day. The companies that actually harness that, who understand how to trap that data, how to work with it, how to mine it, are the ones who survive.”

Crucially, it is this distinction that is helping online retailers win sales from stores.  When a purchase is made in a high street store, all the data the retailer has is your credit card slip.  McBride offers some further insight, “at a company like Amazon, or a company like ASOS, they’ve built up a huge reservoir of what you like, how you like it, how often you spend it, your favourite colours, your sizes, and can use that to serve up relevant recommendations”.

McKinsey research supports this showing 35% of purchases on Amazon are the result of their recommender system and that 75% of what people are watching on Netflix comes from recommendations.

McBride remembers the mantra of Jeff Bezos from his years at Amazon: “start with the customer and work backwards”.  “If the customer is at the centre of your thinking, if you’re using this technology to give the customer a better experience, you’ll probably be okay.  If you’re ignoring the technology or just trying to make life easier for your employees, I don’t think that’s going to cut it.”

Unify is consistently investing in tools to enhance the overall communication and collaboration experience we offer to our customers. We believe the role and value of AI both in the contact centre and the Team Collaboration space is essential to increases in productivity and efficiency. In line with our recently announced Google partnership, our product teams have been busy working to ensure that, (a) our most recent release of OpenScape Contact Center offers customers the ability to create their own Chatbot services via the DialogFlow; and (b) for the users of Circuit, to be able to ask an (in-app) conversational SupportBot ‘How To’ type questions. If the Bot is unable to find an appropriate answer it will automatically seek human expertise whilst informing the user to stand by. When the answer is forthcoming, the backend knowledge base is automatically updated.

Communications analyst, Michels, believes this is just the beginning:

“Right now, we have two Chatbot conversations, we have one that is where I call and interface with a Chatbot and get answers to my questions.  The next conversation won’t involve us.  These Chatbots will be calling each other.  If you think about the one Chatbot calling the other, what’s happening really is we’re using voice as an API.”

We can’t expect every company to develop an integration to every application, and so if the hairstylist wants to have an API for voice that can accept appointments and you have another Chatbot that can make appointments, it’s a lot easier to just integrate over voice.  You know the Chatbots don’t need us, they’ll have a great time without us.”

Finally, we asked our experts where they stood on a scale of a terrified Elon Musk, where AI potentially exceeds human intelligence, to a relaxed Bill Gates.  McBride is quite optimistic about it: “At the end of the day you still need sparks of genius, you still need creative people, you still need entrepreneurs, you need people to create, invent, grow, drive and change businesses.  And AI will make that go forward a lot easier and a lot better, but it will not replace the human spark that creates great companies.”

Michels jokingly warns that ‘with great AI comes great responsibility’.  “I think AI has a lot of potential to automate our lives, where it can just be invisibly passive. So, we have to inherently give AI a lot of the control, but it’s a feature and with all features it’s also a bug. Hopefully we’re responsible about it, and hopefully it balances itself out.”

Do you think AI will create jobs or reduce the work force? Join the debate.

Watch the full conversation between former Amazon CEO, Brian McBride, Industry Analyst, Dave Michels, and Unify Head of Global Communications, Tim Bishop.

To find out more about Unify communication and collaboration solutions, contact us here.