The Digital Matrix Book


Is “Artificial Intelligence” (AI) on Your Strategic Agenda?


Artificial Intelligence (AI — the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior — has been very much in the news recently.

You may have noticed that Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research (FAIR) in June 2015 opened a new facility in Paris to complement its other global centers in New York and Silicon Valley.

Every day, the world generates more and more information — text, pictures, videos and more. To be useful, Facebook’s apps and services need to help you sort through all this information so you can better understand the world around you and more effectively communicate with the people who are important to you. For a little more than a year we’ve been building a program — Facebook AI Research (FAIR) — with this goal in mind.
Our work in AI research is still relatively early. But we’ve built a terrific team and have already made some encouraging progress, and we’re excited to see where this work takes us and what it will allow us to build for the people we serve.

You may also have seen the announcement by IBM on October 6 to go beyond IBM Watson business unit to create a broader unit to bring its impressive prowess with cognitive computing to market.

IBM Cognitive Business Solutions extends the exclusive cognitive leadership of IBM Watson and the company’s established market leadership in business analytics. The new practice draws on the expertise of more than 2,000 consulting professionals spanning machine learning, advanced analytics, data science and development, supported by industry and change management specialists to accelerate client journeys to cognitive business.
Cognitive represents an entirely new model of computing that includes a range of technology innovations in analytics, natural language processing and machine learning. Industry analyst firm IDC predicts that by 2018, half of all consumers will interact regularly with services based on cognitive computing.

Then, there is Google’s reorganization into Alphabet. I see it as a digitla-era conglomerate with machine learning, algorithms and analytics as the integrative glue. From search to mobile, cloud, life sciences and self-driving cars, Alphabet’s corporate strategy is designed to leverage artificial intelligence as the core driver of innovation that disrupts and transforms existing industries and markets.

Besides, Google’s internal proficiency with artificial intelligence and machine learning, it has been strategically acquiring companies. Boston Dynamics — a robotics company — has been part of Google since December 2013. DeepMindhas been part of Google since January 2014 (Facebook and Google competed for this acquisition). And, the self-driving car project shows the current power and future promise of AI embedded in products and services.

GE’s Industrial Internet and its broader transformation away from industrial-age conglomerate rely on artificial intelligence (power of industrial software, machine learning, algorithms, predictive analytics and so on). GE’s Predix has AI at its core.

At the intersection of people, machines, big data, and analytics stands Predix, the cloud-based platform powering innovative Industrial Internet apps that turn real-time operational data into insight for better and faster decision-making.

You may be also familiar with the Quill platform from Narrative Science.

Powered by Artificial Intelligence, Quill is our advanced natural language generation (Advanced NLG) platform for the enterprise that goes beyond reporting the numbers — it creates perfectly written narratives to convey meaning for any intended audience.
While advances in data visualization and data science are helpful, they don’t take us the last mile. Data visualizations are often complex, requiring expert-level analysis and explanation. Quill immediately adds value to data by identifying the most relevant information and relaying it through professional, conversational language. The result? Intelligent narratives that efficiently communicate the insights buried in Big Data that people can comprehend, act on and trust.

Andy Rubin — previously of Android fame — now has Playground Ventures, which has raised $300 million in venture funding to create artificial intelligent networks (hardware and software) that could power the Internet of Things (IoT).

Uber is an AI & robotics company that recently poached 40 top robotics researchers from Carnegie Mellon University. And Amazon with Mechanical Turk, drones and beyond.

There are many more moves on the AI frontier….

Connecting the Dots…

It is premature to connect the disparate developments in areas covering robotics, artificial intelligence, cognitive computing, machine learning, natural language processing and others into one coherent framework. However, we are at a point in time where every company should put AI on the strategic agenda — not as technical area requiring investment but as driver of corporate transformation of products, processes, services and business models.

Jerry Kaplan (@Jerry_Kaplan) writing in Medium asked: “Who Put the Robot in Charge?” It is worth reading (as also his book, provocatively titled, Humans Need Not Apply).

If machines are calling the shots as we use modern products/services such as automobiles, thermostats and others, should AI be not on the strategic roadmaps of product companies connected to IoT? Here, AI becomes core to products as they become digital.

HR & AI — Strange or Strategic Mash-Up?

Kaplan gives the example of Google’s ‘practice of tracking and analyzing search habits to decide if you are qualified for invitation to recruit at Google.’ This is putting AI to use for pre-qualification but also to widen the pool of talent.

Should human resource (HR) practices in other companies learn from and adapt their recruitment processes to develop more efficient and effective targeting of top talent? Here, AI becomes part of modern HR agenda and toolkit.

On August 15, 2015 New York Times published an article on Amazon that turned out to be the most commented/discussed one in its history. The byline of the article was: “The company is conducting an experiment in how far it can push white-collar workers to get them to achieve its ever-expanding ambitions.” I see Amazon as experimenting with rules and playbook for modern management at the nexus of smart humans and powerful machines. I wrote about it on Medium earlier titled, “Amazon, Digital Darwinism and an Emerging Theory of Talent.”

Here, AI goes beyond targeting talent for recruitment to augmentaing human talent with powerful machines and sophisticated algorithms. Is HR function ready to embrace and experiment with AI? How should companies develop education programs that allows employees to recognize the role of AI in their work?

Powerful and Painful Transformation Ahead

IBM in its October 6 announcement said that it will help enterprises “begin the journey to become cognitive enterprises…. Over the next decade, this transformation will be very personal for professionals as we embrace learning algorithms to enhance our capacity.”

It is also worth noting that the transformation could also be painful to professionals — who are unable to use the powerful machines to complement their human capacity. They could be substitutes — in many cases.

Why should AI be on your strategic agenda? Here are some reasons.

One: AI in some form is already part of your digitization roadmap if your products are on the IoT (learning from Alphabet’s Nest and Apple Siri).

Two: Robotics is already (if not, it should be) part of your manufacturing agenda. And robotics should be part of your supply chain and logistics agenda (learning from Amazon).

Three: Algorithms and analytics should drive the design of your next-generation core work processes including service delivery (learning from Netflix recommendation engine). Such power drive industrial productivity (learning from GE).

Four: HR processes — in many organizations — should focus on design of work at the nexus of smart humans and powerful machines (to take advantage of developments such as IBM Watson).

Five: Examine AI’s impact on your business models to proactively develop adaptation and transformation plans.

Fully cognizant of overusing the term — inflection point — I am using it to call attention to the fact that digitization of business models with powerful AI at the core is beginning to happen. And, it will accelerate, disrupt and transform industries and companies.

How well are you adapting your strategy, business models and organizational processes to take advantage of AI?

IT leaders may see the power of AI but are powerless to raise it as a company-wide strategic agenda. Even the newly annointed Chief Digital Officers are busy integrating different facets of digitization for the current horizon.

Who’s thinking (and worrying) about the broad shifts unleashed by AI? Are you capable of becoming ‘cognitive enterprises’ (to use the IBM nomenclature; I am not a fan of creating a distinct label)? But, the very essence of organizing and drivers of value creation and capture may need rethink and refresh. Or, at best — stress tested.


Is AI seen as technical specialized trend not relevant to your industry and company?


Is AI somehow lost in-between the proverbial, functional silos within your complex organizational bureaucratic maze?

Venkat Venkatraman