The Weird and Wonderful World of AI and What It Means for Mobile

Article Image2019 is the year of AI. Its rise in the last few years has been as unstoppable as the robots portrayed in sci-fi films. In 2016, AI did not feature in the top 100 search terms on Gartner. By May 2017, AI ranked seventh. Gartner predicts that by 2020, AI technologies will be present in almost all new software products and services.

AI is defined as a system that makes autonomous decisions. It is a broad category that encompasses special languages, computers, and networks. Within the mobile context, AI is pervasive—including OSs, the chips inside the phone, algorithms powering apps and websites, and automated chatbots and smart agents (such as Siri and Alexa). When you get into your car, your cellphone detects the Bluetooth of the vehicle and prompts you to play music because that is what you usually do. It guesses your route and predicts the journey time. Even the depth effect on the camera is down to AI.

Fear and hype create a distortion effect around the field of AI, resulting in many who do not see it clearly and don’t want to delve in. To my earlier point, around sci-fi in the West, AI is almost always the villain in a movie, whereas in the East—especially with manga and Shintoism in Japan—there is more optimism around robots and AI. This is one of the reasons they lead the world in industrial robotics, supplying 55% of the world’s robots in 2017.

In the startup world, there is widespread exaggeration about a startup’s AI capability, which is leveraged in-order to gain investment. According to a survey from MMC in 2019, 40% of startups in Europe that are classified as AI companies don’t actually use AI in a way that is material to their businesses. Let’s take a look at the weird and wonderful ways that AI is being leveraged.

Wonderful Experiences and Predictions

The largest advancements in AI are coming from Google, Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, Apple, Facebook, Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent—almost all of which have built their success on mobile. Most of these technologies offer features on mobile that provide one or more of the following: a personal experience, something useful, a quicker outcome, a better outcome, or a connection to something that matters. AI can also do things such as dictation, object detection, and creation of an enabler to automation.

If you open Apple or Google Maps right now, you’ll enjoy a one-to-one experience, in real time, that we would not have expected 10 years ago. Now this sort of experience is a benchmark, but that expectation is constantly inflating. A map service will remember previous searches, even on other devices. It may know where you live and where you work. It will predict journey times based on real-time traffic data, and the feedback provided is done in an automated and contextual way through a combination of methods—on a watch, a map service can use haptics to vibrate when you need to turn when walking. Or, in a car, the service can talk to you and change your route on-the-fly. Heightened context leads to heightened expectation.

The same is true of the experiences you enjoy with Netflix, Facebook, Spotify, Apple, and the like—the content you (and others) engage with affects what you see or listen to. In the swirl of white noise, you should get the most relevant content, personal to you, with the algorithm constantly evolving and improving so that the customer enjoys the best possible experience.

In e-commerce, personalization isn’t about delivering better, more contextual experiences anymore; it’s now the key difference between gaining or losing that conversion on your platform. Meanwhile, bots for customer service provide customers the benefit of quick answers to questions, 24/7, start to humanize technology. Thanks to automation, Juniper Research predicts that by the year 2023, the use of AI-powered chatbots will save $11 billion in costs across the categories of retail, healthcare, and banking. According to Oracle, AI is front of mind among sales and marketing professionals in terms of plans to create chatbot solutions and implement AI, with 80% of leaders saying they plan to use AI by 2020.

AI is, famously, also great at winning board games (such as chess) and TV game shows (such as Jeopardy!). But in more serious matters, AI is now able to tackle bigger problems like air pollution and predict re-admission rates for patients at hospitals and is part of the underlying tech that will power the autonomous cars and smart cities revolutions.


Weird Sports, Art, and Employee Retention

AKQA has used AI to invent a new sport, Speedgate. The world’s first sport imagined by AI, it is a team sport that is a mix of soccer, rugby, and croquet. The game is “fun, fast, and physical, relying heavily on teamwork and passing to score and win,” according to its website. It was created by training image- and text-generating networks using 400-plus global sports; 1,000 outputs were narrowed to 10 concepts, and three were field-tested, with Speedgate the sole survivor. In addition to coming up with thousands of ideas and rules, AKQA also leveraged the power of AI to generate hundreds of logos for the sport. Perhaps best of all, AI was used to create the sport’s bizarre motto: “Face the ball to be the ball to be above the ball.”

Using AI as an extension of the creative process and part of the team is, perhaps, an unexpected use of the technology. Nonetheless, artists have been quick to leverage the power of AI for creating new works, and Silicon Valley art investors are liking the results. (Christie’s sold the AI artwork of Edmond de Belamy by Obvious, for $432,500.) Thanks to advances in generative adversarial networks (GANs), new art forms are possible. These networks are loosely modeled on the way neurons and synapses perform in the human brain when cognitively processing images, music, and speech.

Netflix is probably the most data-centered company on Earth, with prizes for the best algorithms and a strong set of principles for leveraging AI. And it is leveraging the creative testing power of AI to optimize customer experience. AI is constantly multi-variant testing different combinations of poster images in the interface to measure and enhance, much quicker and more iteratively than a human-only solution could ever achieve.

Meanwhile, IBM has a neat trick for retaining its best talent: It is using AI to predict when employees might leave for a new challenge. According to IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, IBM can predict when employees are ready to quit with 95% accuracy, with the “predictive attrition” software reportedly saving big money by predicting who might be on the verge of quitting, reports CNBC. The system is a black box solution, but it surely uses the likes of IBM Watson and a bunch of datapoints (such as stock options, years of employment, and results of reviews). Essentially, AI is streamlining IBM’s HR head count by 30%.

Finally, AI is being weaponized. There is now the potential for this technology—and for the likes of VDR (video dialogue replacement) technology—to create fake video news. VDR could have a celebrity unknowingly endorse a nonexistent product or a politician give a fake answer. The quality of the video is approaching near-photo realism. This brings into question the ethics of AI, which is sure to be a hot topic this year and next—in fact, the EU has recently set AI Ethics Guidelines.

When assessing the state of AI for mobile and content-related endeavors in 2019, it is really exciting to witness the exponential pace of change and also the weird and wonderful use cases emerging. Whether it’s Netflix or Google, there are some amazing things happening in the world of AI and mobile. They’re sure to shape how we live in the coming years.   

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