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Clarifying the broad topic of artificial intelligence

10 Oct 18

Technologies that seemed like science fiction not long ago are now mainstream and to many people, the possibilities look very exciting. But jumping into a new future isn’t always easy.

Before tech-ing up, break it down

Artificial intelligence. Machine learning. Automated Insights. Advanced analytics. Heard of these terms? Sure. But can you tell them apart?

Some of these terms have been used interchangeably, shrouding the new technology with confusion. So, whether you’re already strapping on your flight suit, or are just beginning to explore, let’s clear things up before we take off. Because in technology, as in space exploration, it’s often best to first see clearly what you’re getting into.

A simple definition of artificial intelligence

Artificial means that it’s done by machines or devices, not a human. Here’s the simplest explanation of AI ever – artificial Intelligence is a machine or computer’s ability to acquire and apply knowledge.

That’s knowledge, not data. Here’s another distinction: Data is numbers, facts, lists, and statistics. Knowledge is data in context, and it’s gained through analysis and experience. Knowledge is data made usable.

That’s what AI does; it makes data usable and applies it, sometimes in a new context.

Acquiring knowledge and using it

AI is a broad term, a discipline in science that covers many topics. All of the areas in AI involve acquiring knowledge and applying it. Here are some examples:

  • Natural language understanding. Tools like Dragon Dictate, Siri, and Cortana recognise speech, turning audio sounds into information they can acquire and use. Siri or Cortana, for example, can learn to adapt to a regional accent or a mispronounced word in order to follow simple instructions, like playing music, turning on lights, or searching for something on a computer.
  • Digital Vision. Tools like DeepFace and self-driving cars acquire information from digital images and use it. For example, Facebook’s DeepFace recognises which part of a photo is a human face and identifies it based on a database of faces.
  • Machine learning (ML). ML is when a computer or device acquires and interprets knowledge from a large amount of data and uses it in a way that improves its processes, with or without the aid of humans. ML uses the information it acquires to get faster, smarter, and more accurate over time, based on statistics and other mathematical applications. You can feed it stock market history, weather, political situations, and business data, and it comes up with intelligent math-based trade suggestions.

Other areas of AI and applications that bring several of these areas together include knowledge bots (like Siri and Cortana), chatbots and inference engines that apply logical rules to data, connect the dots, and deduce new information.

The sophistication of the AI of a computer or device depends on how well it can logically apply information in new ways with increasing effectivity, and even, occasionally, independently. That means that the future of this technology is as wide open as imagination can take us.

AI, advanced analytics and better business planning

All of this, and more fit into advanced analytics. Traditional analytics, or business intelligence, is a review of historical data and a reporting of past results. Advanced analytics uses AI and other techniques, including statistical and predictive forecasting, to look ahead and relay “what’s possible” instead of asking “what happened?” 

When it comes to business planning, AI and ML are about to deliver the sonic boom of increased capability. Instead of basing this year’s forecast solely on last year’s sales, you could have a plan that takes projections for significant events into account. These can be social or local events like festivals or sports championships; business events like mergers and other changes along the supply chain; regulatory changes; weather predictions; and even fads, trends and staffing issues. The possibilities are endless. The tool uses AI to acquire the necessary information and apply it all by itself, leaving you free to review the results and come up with an intelligent response that keeps your company ahead of the competition.

Instead of plodding away trying to make a plan that foresees everything (or doesn’t), you could choose the most desirable result from an array of options prepared for you, using criteria that you select. Moreover, you won’t spend time compiling and verifying data and trying to keep up with what’s happening around you. The status of the business is constantly updated and accurate, and that information is available on your nearest screen.

Time to get more out of your data

When it comes to making the most of your data, AI presents a lot to wrap your head around. Before you launch any new technology you need to do some adequate preparation and study. With AI you will take the first small step to a high return on your technology investment and a streamlined flight into the future.

Article by Patrick Elliott, A/NZ Regional Vice President at Anaplan