I was reading the McKinsey Quarterly publication, dated 2nd February 2018, titled “Digital trends and observations from 2018’. It articulated two key trends – the first, the growth of Artificial Intelligence (“AI”), and the second, the increasing traction of blockchain. It also highlighted the increasing need for talent, concerns over cyber-security and tech giants. This got me thinking to explore and reflect on each of these areas. I thought for this article, I’d just reflect on AI.
AI, as an academic discipline seems to have been established sometime in the 1950s. The most notable definition of AI was published by Alan Turin and is known as the “Turin Test”, paraphrased as “if a machine could carry a conversation indistinguishable from a human conversation, then it’s reasonable to say that the machine was “thinking”. With that in mind, I could not help but think of Apple’s ‘Siri’ and Amazon’s ‘Alexa’ as we use them (pardon my reference to them as people) to assign tasks and do searches using natural language without thinking twice, albeit with limitations. Siri was launched in 2011 and Alexa in 2014. That is only less than a decade ago. As processing power increases and we break new grounds on natural language processing, AI is likely to become a natural part of our lives, just as the ‘smartphone’ is a natural appendage of the urban professional.
Also increasingly prevalent, is the proliferation of chatbots, as they first line customer service personnel. These AIs are a far cry from the traditional Interactive Voice Response (“IVR”) we are so used to getting annoyed with when calling the call centre helpline. While IVRs are clearly limited (and one would not even suggest to be an AI), chatbots on the other hand are utilising natural language processing (“NLP”) to almost mimic human interaction. It is almost indiscernible to differentiate a good chatbot from a human response using chat. A quick ‘Google’ search, returned more than 10 chatbot building platforms, some of which even allows the layman to build a quick chatbot for your Facebook e-commerce portal without even knowing an ounce of programming.
Botsanility – No, it’s not a new BDSM fad but actually the development of a chat bot’s personality – hence “chat bot personality”. It is basically the User experience (“UX”) of a chat bot. We’ve also noticed some companies using it as part of their marketing campaigns to help drive customer to using chatbots instead of calling customer service agents (which is a much high cost solution for companies). Examples of companies who have adopted personas (at least, if not personalities) include XL’s “Maya” (short for My XL Assistant), Telkomsel’s “Veronika”, Unilever’s “Jemma” Singapore Red Cross’ “Ella”.
However, if you go beyond the Turing test of “polite conversation” as the definition of AI, and just take the concept of a self-learning or self-correcting machines as AI, then “machine-authored” books and music as well as “driverless cars” are the present and near future AI applications. “Emmy” and her daughter (i.e. the second generation program) “Emily Howell” are compositional programs (from composer and software developer David Cope), that create new musical composition based on inputs on historical pieces. Its compositions are indistinguishable by humans and have disturbed many critics.
On a completely different tangent, even at its limited form, the Ford Focus “Active Park Assist” (as popularised in its commercials) are AI mimics. Many other auto manufacturers, such as Toyota, Audi and Mercedes, also provide assisted parking or automatic parking systems with varying degree of autonomy from the driver. Of course, Waymo (the company owned by Google), is one of the few that is truly taking this concept significantly further – with its efforts on autonomous cars. However, a potential unlikely disruptor in this area could even possibly come from China – with the USD348 million fundraising led by Alibaba and Foxconn for Guangzhou Xiapeng Motors Technology (a 3-year-old start-up developing connected, electric cars).
What are the implications of AI as it edges its way into our daily lives? Are we going to lose our jobs or does this open up new and more interesting job options? Whatever the answer may be, time will tell. To paraphrase an ironical unreferenced Chinese Curse – “May you live in interesting times”.
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Henke.N & Willmott P. (2018), “Diital trends and observations from Davos 2018’, McKinsey Quarterly, 2 February 2018
Turing, Alan (October 1950), « Computing Machinery and Intelligence », Mind, LIX (236): 433–460, doi:10.1093/mind/LIX.236.433, ISSN 0026-4423
Anonymous (2018), “The Chat Bot Personality”, Chatbotslife.com, https://chatbotslife.com/the-chat-bot-personality-87c83eba434a
Aditya Hadi Pratama (2017), “XL Axiata Hadirkan Layanan Chatbot Maya dengan Menggandeng Botika”, Techinasia, https://id.techinasia.com/xl-hadirkan-chatbot-maya
Anonymous (2017), “Singapore Red Cross unveils Ella chatbot to help the elderly living alone”, Advertising+Marketing, http://www.marketing-interactive.com/singapore-red-cross-unveils-ella-chatbot-to-help-the-elderly-living-alone/
Jeremy Hsu (2010), “Is the World’s Most Intelligent Music Composing Software as Creative as Bach”, Popular Science, https://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2010-02/composers-music-making-machine-stirs-controversy-about-creative-originality
Adam Minter (2018), “China Could Steer Self-Driving Cars”, Bloomberg View, https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-02-04/why-china-could-seize-the-lead-in-self-driving-cars