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So, How Artificial is AI?

Richard Buxton

Head of Collaboration at Node4

For a while now, I’ve felt that almost every technology article I’ve read has some mention of AI and how much it will revolutionise our lives.

It seems the term must appear in every blog, even if it’s not particularly related.

I’ve worked in technology for more than 20 years and have always been fascinated by the changes this brings. I love to see breakthroughs in technology that were unimaginable even a few years ago, and genuinely believe that people will look back on this time as a period of revolution. But the practical application of any technology must be well…practical.

Node4 is a forward-thinking technology business, providing managed services to SME and enterprise businesses, who depend on us to deliver tech solutions to their business challenges. Whilst they want us to be innovative, they need us to be able to provide real world products and solutions.

For this reason, I try to separate technology into two categories: things we can do today, and things that we can do tomorrow. I accept the line between the two can blur, and there are use cases that appear unexpectedly that makes ‘tomorrow’s technology’ viable today.

Typically, technology either moves from one category to another over a small time period or falls by the wayside. As an example, Amazon has had the ability to deliver packages using drones since 2013. Outside of a few test cases or selected geographic locations, this still isn’t a standard offering. This will probably become the norm at some point – but who knows when, or if ever, it will be commercially viable to Amazon.

When we see the fantastic technological advances coming out of huge companies such as Apple, Amazon and Google, or research projects from labs or universities, it is sometimes difficult to see how these could ever be used by a smaller business or consumer. Until recently, it seemed AI was an example of this. I’ve read a wealth of whitepapers, articles and press releases regarding AI benefits, but very little regarding how this can be adopted now by one of my customers.

Recently, it feels like this is changing. I am now seeing real-world use cases that will help businesses and consumers in their daily lives, reducing costs or providing a better user-experience.

With the mass adoption of home assistants such as Alexa, Google Home and Siri, we have seen the power of AI. This is a great example of how technology moved from ‘tomorrow’ to ‘today’ and into the mainstream. Application of AI is becoming much more advanced and interaction more human-like. Google’s demonstration of its Duplex solution booking haircuts and restaurants is a fantastic example of how far this has evolved.

In June 2019, Node4 hosted a “Festival of Innovation and Technology” called TechFest. We showcased technology that is available to our customers now and in the future. We chose to focus on AI and IoT, and their application within our collaboration portfolio. There were real world examples of solutions that can be consumed now.

The guys at Converse 360 and Enghouse Interactive worked with us to show applications of AI and chatbots in a customer service environment as part of a practical and consumable solution.

We also partnered with Cisco to show how AI and our collaboration tools can integrate with IoT. As a Cisco HCS service provider, we already provide collaboration tools to businesses, but we can now integrate into industrial computing and IoT sensors, with intelligent monitoring and management via AI.

A working example of this is having a sensor detect abnormal behaviour, creating a collaboration space, adding in relevant people and allowing those people to directly interface with the sensor using human language rather than machine code.

Whilst I’m always inspired with the amazing and revolutionary technological developments within AI (hint: look at the “IBM Project Debater” video) I’m far more impressed if it can be used to bring businesses benefits, costs savings, or service improvements to our customers now.