I have to admit that I was wrong about AI. My original prediction made in 2016 was that AI will start making widespread impact on our daily personal and professional lives in a few short years (circa 2020). Then it will proceed to define the 2020s decade as the most significant underlying technology that impacts how we live and how we run our businesses. However historians may actually point at 2017 as the pivotal year AI went mainstream!
What are the events that swayed me?
First was watching Google CEO Sundar Pichai during the I/O 2017 developers conference, where he declared Google strategy shift from Mobile first to AI first. Then we saw how each of Google’s flagship products, from cameras to personal assistants, with a billion+ users each, was making use of AI in ever more sophisticated ways. And it is all coming to us in 2017 as part of the new Android O release, and it will be imbedded in an increasing number of IoT enabled devices.
This imminent consumerization of AI is very significant as we have seen the individuals lead businesses in the adoption of digital technologies, and forcing the hand of businesses to follow suit. This observation was illustrated by a remarkable Deloitte research where this diagram showed the widening of the technology gap among various entities.
The fact that businesses are lagging behind was covered by several surveys such as a recent one by Tata Consultancy Services that polled 835 executives and IT managers at companies that averaged $20 billion in revenues in different regions around the globe. The dismal average of 0.3% of revenues these companies are spending on AI reflects the missed potential to create a competitive advantage for themselves. This is going to come back and haunt the laggards as we can already measure how the businesses who spent more than the average are reaping real benefits in terms of efficient operations and ability to differentiate and accelerate into a leadership position.
Second event that swayed me to declare 2017 a pivotal year was inspired by another CEO, Marc Benioff of Salesforce, who recently showed how he uses his Einstein AI software to help run the company and help weed off politics from the boardroom. Even if the technology still needs to be polished a bit more, this scenario is science fiction material happening right now, and with great impact on a major global organization. Copy cats will soon abound once the product Einstein Advisor is released commercially.
Third event that made me say that 2017 is definitely a pivotal year for AI is the story of Abu a 15 year old high school student from Chicago who taught himself machine learning with Tensorflow by watching YouTube movies and persisting for hour on end until he succeeded in detecting breast cancer from mammograms, opened a startup business selling the product, and became a sensational role model. Why is it so important? Because it means that AI shall not be confined to the big companies, that visionary small and medium companies can look at AI as the next accessible technology to build their competitive edge and outgrow their less visionary peers.
Yes AI is complex but in 2017 we can say that it is becoming approachable for all!
As Sundar Pichai put it in his own blog, “the more we can work to democratize access to the technology, the sooner everyone will benefit.”
Welcome to the journey.