There’s been a lot of talk about artificial intelligence lately. Most notably, Mark Zuckerberg shared his somewhat lofty new year’s resolution this week: build his own “simple AI” bot to help out at home — in the image of butler Jarvis from Iron Man, no less. (We’ll get to what simple AI means in a moment.)

In parallel, Facebook recently released the designs of the computer server it created to give AI software more oomph — for free. And it’s far from the only tech heavyweight to open-source its AI technology: the list includes Google, Microsoft, and IBM. Whether you feel it right now or not, the robot races are on.

What is AI?

According to dear-ole science-fiction, AI is, well, basically Jarvis: an advanced, human-like computerized system, with the goal of intelligently managing almost everything in its human’s life. He knows everything about you (yes, you, Iron Man), he gives you feedback and advice, and he’s trying to learn how to do new things all the time.

Actual AI in today’s practical world is somewhat similar (though perhaps less charming). It’s code that tries to simulate human thinking processes to complete tasks and make predictions. Today, some of the most popular AI predicts intent: for example, speech interpretation technology uses your voice to figure out what you intended to say. Another example is an intelligent agent, an autonomous entity that predicts what you need next via sensors (think Nest).

Some people think bots like Siri and Amazon Echo will be running our lives, but that’s not quite the case: they’re simply preprogrammed to complete tasks, without the desire to learn. True AI not only wants to learn, it is inherently creative — either in output or problem-solving approach.

Wait, so what’s simple AI?

Simple AI, as Zuck refers to it, is probably programmed around specific tasks. It seeks to learn and better itself at those tasks and related tasks, and may even be able group tasks together, but it will not decide to learn how to complete a totally new task. At the other end of the spectrum is complex AI, which will theoretically be smart enough to surpass human intelligence. (For the record, we’re not there yet. Still at the level of a chimp.)

For example, Zuck’s Jarvis is going to get really good at knowing when Sheryl drops by, or listening for baby Max’s cry, but it won’t be complex enough to randomly decide to eliminate Cilla. Comforting, right?

Many AI-driven products of are already out in the wild, improving user experience, search performance, and more. Yet people still think of AI as the stuff of sci-fi fantasies; they assume it doesn’t really have a place in their everyday lives.

This attitude needs to change: the speed and exponential growth of innovation is intense, and those who don’t embrace AI will find themselves left behind in a very short window of time.


What Does Tomorrow Look Like?

Zuck’s Facebook post is a big fat sign of the times — that is to say, even if Zuck’s passion project doesn’t inspire you to think about the possibilities AI brings, you should pay attention for the sake of your business.

Here’s why:

Growth of data

With almost half of the world’s population online and mobile’s continuous growth, we’re creating an enormous amount of data assets — the raw material for AI — that’s at a new level of granularity. We’ll soon contend with an amount of data that will be impossible to process, organize, and understand without AI.

The rising importance of customer experience

Customer experience is becoming a competitive advantage that makes or breaks companies, so it’s worth getting right. AI can reveal deep insights the human eye would miss by paying attention to the right data, and crunching heaps of it. In a future world, it may determine the right specifications for user/s, even when there is no data to reference.

A word on intent

Much of AI’s beauty lies in its ability to decipher intent. Even simple AI has a goal, and will use intent to accomplish that goal. For example, Netflix wants to help you chill as effectively as possible by predicting what show or movie will keep you glued to the sofa. We at Boomtrain want to make sure your users love you by predicting what content they want next, before they even know it. If this is today, just imagine tomorrow.

For Zuck, he probably just wants to live more efficiently, and Jarvis will rely on task grouping to help accomplish this. When his car pulls out of the garage in the morning, Jarvis will turn off the lights and lower the thermostat, knowing Zuck is off to work.

And of course, how often do you leave the house and forget if you closed the garage door? That’s the intent behind Zuck’s AI.

Some more great resources on artificial intelligence:

Artificial Intelligence Finally Entered Our Everyday World

The AI Revolution: The Road to Superintelligence

Investing in Artificial Intelligence

And for the really brave: Humans Need Not Apply

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