We all know much more about AI than we realise. We’re already consuming it in our daily lives when searching, when using online map services, when we are shopping online or when choosing something to watch in the evening when we wind down.
So, if it is already so pervasive, why is AI not old news? Why are we discussing it so much now and why are we pondering so excessively over our future with AI?
Three things may explain why it is coming up in nearly every technology strategy and roadmap discussion I am in.
First, AI is still in its absolute infancy. Everyone expects a lot more to come and that it will impact every aspect of our lives. There are huge benefits but there are also risks and pitfalls that we need to navigate. It is therefore only to be expected that people both from a personal and business perspective think about the impact, whether positive or negative. Will AI help in the fight of complex diseases? When will my car be able to drive me to work? What will my future job look like? Can AI solve some of our productivity issues? Can AI help us provide better services to our clients?
Second, there is a sense that now is the time, as there has been a convergence over the last few decades where we have seen huge data growth, massive increase in available (and affordable) compute power all the while the science behind AI has advanced. So where are we actually now? What is the reality once the hype has died down.
Third, entertainment, popular science and journalism love to talk about the science fiction use cases of AI, so it just naturally is “front of mind”. The reality is – as per point one above – that we are still very far off most of those scenarios depicted in Ex_Machina, Bladerunner iRobot and so forth. Most of these scenarios fall under AGI (Artificial General Intelligence, or General AI or Human-Level AI).
So, what is status now in 2018?
The reality is that at the moment we are actually getting really good at what often is referred to as “Narrow AI” (so AI that is programmed to serve a very narrow and specific purpose). This is where there are real advances, lots of available tools and services, and with which we can solve a lot of known “use cases” in today’s world. It is certainly already now capable of changing the face (and guts) of many businesses. Harry Shum, Microsoft’s Executive VP, AI and Research said not too long ago: “AI is going to disrupt every single business app – whether an industry vertical like banking, retail and health care, or a horizontal business process like sales, marketing and customer support.”
It is a fair statement (albeit without a timeline). But my point is that can definitely see that the reality behind the statement is creeping into many technology strategy/roadmap conversations that we are having. And indeed, Microsoft’s three big bets are currently Mixed Reality, Artificial Intelligence and Quantum computing.
To best summarise it from our practical perspective, we look at what we are doing or able to do on top of the Microsoft eco system that we depend on for client solutions and products. Naturally, if you work with Amazon, Google, IBM or other platforms the detail will be different.
The direction in relation to AI is to pursue a vision of democratizing the potential of AI. Microsoft is taking a “platform” approach to AI, making available a series of services and tools with underlying infrastructure components that is available through its cloud technology stack (Azure).
Today, the AI platform consists of three core areas: AI Services, AI Infrastructure and AI Tools.
I'm finding myself thinking a lot about 5 minute blocks. I see these blocks of time all around me - my day is made up of them.
Often they annoy me because I could have done more in those 5 minutes. I am mainly aware of this during my working day. Outside of work I don’t mind so much. I quite enjoy having an extra 5 minutes where I'm not expected to do anything - to watch the kids play a mindless PS4 game, or convincing my wife that it is OK to chill for 5 minutes.
So back to work, why does it frustrate me so much? It drives me nuts because each time I spend 5 minutes doing something that "I really shouldn't be doing" I could have been using those same 5 minutes doing a better job, delivering better quality, getting back to the client quicker or just going home in good time.
Currently, the top "5 minutes wasted" that annoy me include:
- Having to figure out where to save stuff so my colleagues and I can work together. Are we working together in the SharePoint Document Management area? In the social workspace (Yammer)? In the Microsoft Teams collaboration area? Or did someone set up a Planner for this thing?
- I get to a meeting on time - but we spend (more than) 5 minutes getting set up. And then we discover that we still have to get someone dialled-in who has an issue with their headset. How often does that happen around the world every day?
- Spending time figuring out where to find our latest "blah template" (because we all know that the official one in the Knowledge area is obviously out of date).
- Spending time figuring out whether the document I found is the correct one.
- Writing a cover letter from scratch when I am sure there is something similar I could re-use.
I have more - but these are the ones I have nominated today. Do these resonate with you? Perhaps you have your own list of annoyances that waste you five minutes every day. Feel free to share your own list with me.
Because, luckily for me, I can do something about it. All this time I am spending getting annoyed is being channelled in a constructive way and goes straight into our research-and-development-propeller-head-thinktank-bunker.
Our team (picture them in the bunker with no natural light) are working with myself and our clients to find practical ways to employ new technology to derive business benefits. In particular, the focus is on incremental improvements to save moments of time here and there. And this is a very gratifying piece of work, if I can say so myself.
As an aside, we are also fortunate that our clients are similar to us in many ways. So they identify with the problems and understand the benefits we are looking to achieve. Like us, our clients work with loads of information via a connected device. They are typically "knowledge workers" such as Lawyers, Engineers, Accountants, Finance professionals, Sales Consultants or Specialist Consultants. Like us, they get frustrated about losing five minutes here and another five minutes there.
Having set the scene, I look forward to sharing more on this topic and about how we are Finding Five Minutes to save in your working day.
And remember - while we might be using all sorts of cool AI, automation and bot tech, it is not all about shiny new toys. It is really about creating smarter digital workspaces that make it easier for you to do your work, that are user-friendly and a pleasure to look at.