Artificial intelligence is more of a secretary than a Skynet

Artificial Intelligence is already here and developing at an incredible pace. So, are you ready for an AI-first world?

Amazon's Alexa AI has been integrated into a Ubtech Lynx robot – one of the ways artificial intelligence is becoming more commonplace. Rick Wilking / Reuters
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Artificial intelligence (AI) has evolved into a personal digital assistant rather than a physical machine like the Terminator, says Samer Shoueiry of the creative communications group Publicis Communications.

And it is developing at a speed that is “incredible”, adds the regional executive head of digital and social marketing for the company.

“We see AI today in everything we do as the personal digital assistant – someone returning your web searches, filtering your spam emails, the technology assisting everything within your car,” he says.

AI can be seen in every aspect of technology that links to digitisation, adds Mr Shoueiry, who spoke at the recent Dubai Lynx advertising festival.

Research company Forrester claims that cognitive technologies such as AI and machine learning will replace 16 per cent of US jobs by 2025, in a report it published last year entitled Sharing Your Cubicle With Robots.

But 9 per cent of new jobs will also be created by white-collar worker collaboration with AI, it says, reducing the net loss to 7 per cent.

Some of those 8.9 million new jobs will be as robot monitors, data scientists, content curators and automation specialists, the research firm believes. The biggest losses will be in the field of office and administration support staff.

“What we are witnessing is not a technology that is an AI,” says Mr Shoueiry. “It’s really a systematic shift in the way we see things, the way the industrial revolution is happening.

“We are moving from what we used to call the information age to a connected age, where the Internet of Things has become a reality and we can control our car, our household appliances, with AI.”

The World Economic Forum has called this the Fourth Industrial Revolution, one of “cyber-physical systems”, which it says is separate to the digital revolution the world has undergone since 1969.

At the forum’s annual meeting last year, the founder Klaus Schwab said AI and the fourth revolution is “redefining what it means to be human” and “forcing companies to re-examine the way they do business”.

It was a timely comment. In 2016 Google, Facebook, Amazon, IBM and Microsoft announced that they were joining forces to create a new AI consortium, which would promote “the trustworthiness, reliability and robustness of the technology”.

All have AI interests. Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant are going head to head with their respective home smart speakers Echo and Google Home. The consulting firm Strategy Analytics estimates that Amazon sold 6.3 million Echo devices last year, and that Google will sell one million Google Home products by the middle of this year.

IBM’s Watson beat two humans on the TV game show Jeopardy five years ago, while last year Google’s DeepMind subsidiary built a machine, AlphaGo, to beat world-class players of the Asian board game Go – described as being like four simultaneous games of chess.

Meanwhile, the Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has been building his very own version of Tony Stark’s virtual assistant, Jarvis. Apple will continue to go it alone, outside the consortium, with Siri.

“Five years ago we started hearing the terminology digital first,” says Mr Shoueiry. “Today we are moving to an AI-first world.

“You want to be someone who is equipped, because AI is already happening, beyond bots and digital assistants,” he warns.

AI is monitoring and deriving learnings from the “wealth of data” that we provide when we are connected and using our phones, he says.

“It can help us distribute assets in the best way to the audience,” he adds. “This goes beyond mass personalisation – it is one-to-one, individual targeting that can produce the same message for everyone but in a way that suits you.”

Marketers can use AI to create conversational tools such as voice assistants and chatbots. The marketing and consulting subsidiary Sapient is providing Publicis with AI-driven media planning information, to optimise the delivery of client media budgets, says Mr Shoueiry.

The technology can even crunch its way through unstructured data, he says – for instance in a call centre, where it can assess calls in multiple languages, evaluating the tone and emotions in callers’ voices to pinpoint specific product issues.

While many people still worry about the damage the machines may do to society, Mr Shoueiry says he would “like to think of it on the positive side”.

If we build a strong digitised business where humans collaborate with AI, he says, then “what AI can bring to the table is so transformational that it can enable us to win, be faster, more efficient and more financially healthy”.

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