Artificial Intelligence in Streamlining Business Services
The world of chess came to a standstill in the year 1997 when the demigod of a game many consider essential to battle fare was defeated by a computer program called Deep Blue. It was the first sign of things to come, artificial intelligence defeating human intelligence, with the defeated, Garry Kasparov often having been touted one of the most intelligent human beings alive at the time. Indeed while Deep Blue’s victory has oft been called the victory of brute force by dint of the machine’s capability to crunch combinations at a rapid pace, very recently, the defeat of 18-time world ‘Go champion’ - Lee Sedol by ‘Google DeepMind’s’ - AlphaGo, which used advanced machine learning, is reminder of the fact that artificial intelligence has indeed come a long way. These victories of ‘what man has made’ over ‘man’ are a precursor of things to come.
Let’s put aside games, as niche as ‘Go’, or even more widely accepted chess, for a moment. There is a revolution that has silently crept into our lives, and like every great revolution, a majority of us have not had an inkling of it, until we were in the eye of the storm. Thus, where the world knew manual-drive versus power-drive earlier, today it knows self-drive, a mode pioneered by Tesla. Where swipe was the next type, today talking to your phone makes swiping look. Well, let’s just say, a little redundant. ‘Siri’ & ‘Google Now’ have made life much simpler to the extent that whether it be the time to take your medications or the time to pick up your daughter from school, digital assistants are our go-to ‘people’.
What then is Artificial Intelligence? And how has it managed to do in a decade short of a century, what man took centuries to master? AI is based on two pretty simple-to-understand facets. On the one hand, there is a neural network, which involves an approach to problem solving loosely based on the behavior of the human brain. While inputs may be varied, certain preset rules help such an approach reach a decision. These rules come in two forms, those entered as part of the inputs, and others which come from the other facet of AI - machine learning. Machine learning helps the artificial entity learn as it absorbs more and more varied data. For example, if you are used to waking up at 5:00 am and heading for your jog, then not far is the day when a combination of neural networks and machine learning may well wake you up on a rainy day, and ask you to make a steaming cup of coffee and curl up with a book, than head out for your jog and fall ill! Amazing, considering it hasn’t even been a century than the computer was invented.
But to arrive succinctly at the topic at hand, how is it that artificial intelligence can be used to streamline business services? How does one benefit society at large harvesting this intelligence? To answer this question, one only need look to Amazon which has managed to automate a large portion of its warehouse activities globally using Kiva robots. At a point in time when the rest of the logistics, supply-chain and industry was grappling with issues of how to transport objects as disparate as novels and modular kitchens, Amazon automated its warehouse activities in a bid to save time and money. The result was a mind-boggling saving of more than $20 million per warehouse, according to an analysis by Deutsche Bank . Not only has this ensured greater profitability, it has also ensured greater customer delight in the micro experiences of using the retail industry.
And, this stands true not only of the retail industry, but even tasks such as investments where lack of knowledge may often lead to poor decisions. Artificial intelligence ranging from betterment to wealth front, allows investors the leeway of investing, sitting back and enjoying relatively risk-free transactions, basis rules set by the user. Effectively, we end up setting the rules for the AI program to follow, thereby ensuring we do not face any financial setbacks we did not ask for. The program then takes this forward, following instructions, while ensuring that the user is left with free mind space to be better utilize else where.
I could define this as the simplification of human lives, or even as the betterment of micro experiences that each of us go through several of, while interacting with both animate and inanimate beings, throughout the course of our day. In the banking space for example, automating teller services would help smoothen processes, ironing out the chinks of human intervention, and ruling out the human bottleneck of errors. In the retail space, predictive demand could help eliminate the bullwhip effect through accurate forecasts of demand, thereby minimizing wastage, ensuring a better customer experience and thereby improving the value of goodwill and recall.
Artificial intelligence, as is being predicted by technologists, is set to take over the world. As speed of learning increases for these programs, application will increase, ensuring most industries are attracted to it, sooner rather than later. What started out as a man against machine will soon become man’s bid to make his machine the fastest. Artificial Intelligence is empowering us, till there comes a day each of us can think of Kasparov-levels of chess, SIRI-levels of management and Google-levels of forward thinking investment. Indeed, when I look back at where we stood at the turn of this century vis-à-vis where we stand now, I am ironically reminded of Wordsworth’s ‘What Man Has Made of Man’. What is ironic is that the erstwhile Poet Laureate too spoke of man’s fetish for industry.