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June 6, 2016

AI: Everywhere and Nowhere (Part 2)

Summary:

Detractors of artificial intelligence say it hasn't live up to the big promises. In fact, AI is everywhere -- and just getting started.

Photo Courtesy of IQworkforce.com

This is part two of a three-part series. Part 1 can be found here

As we saw in a previous blog post on AI Everywhere and Nowhere, defining artificial intelligence is like trying to hit a disappearing target. As soon as any aspect of AI gains widespread adoption, people fail to distinguish it as an AI technology, and it dissolves into the sea of general technology. As a result, most detractors of AI, at least until recently, have questioned the real-world applications of AI. In turn, AI never gains the respect and recognition it needs to evolve and reach its full potential. The beauty (and bane) of AI is that it is everywhere and yet nowhere – it is becoming ubiquitous in all of our interactions (at least all of our virtual interactions), yet most people fail to recognize and respect it.

Artificial Intelligence Is Ubiquitous Intelligence

You wake up in the morning and from your bed ask your digital assistant, “What is the weather like today?” It replies, “We have 80% chance of snow in Lexington later in the evening – with accumulations of one to three inches.” The voice recognition, the natural language understanding of our question, the search through the Internet to get the right answer and the translation of that answer into speech is all AI.

You get into your office and open your email. Your email gets automatically sorted into “Social,” “Forums,” “Private” or whatever categories you have created, gets identified as important or not or marked with whatever tags you have provided to make it easier for you to read and clear your email. The classification of your email based on the To, From, Subject and Content fields, the natural language processing to extract the right keywords, the machine learning to determine what is spam or not spam or who is important or not is all AI.

You open up your online newspaper to check on the stock market performance from yesterday. You get a description of the overall stock market performance and the movement of your favorite stocks. The news is personalized to the topics, sources and authors that you want to read, and the newspaper has recommendations on what is trending among the sources or people you follow. The natural language generation based on structured stock market performance data, the curation of articles based on personal preferences and the recommendation engine for suggested articles are all AI.

You open up your favorite search engine, and, as you type your query in the search box, the system suggests possible completions. Then, the system recommends the right websites from billions of documents on the Internet and the right ad that matches your query, and fulfills the best bid for your search term among competing advertisers who want to personalize their message to you. The statistical inference in suggesting completions, the page rank algorithm that computes the relevant pages to display and the selection of the right ad using a real-time ad exchange are all AI.

See also: How to Think About the Rise of the Machines

The list goes on and on. In fact, there is very little in our day-to-day life that is not affected by AI in some way. Yet the real power of AI is the insight that it provides us, without our being aware of it. The intelligence hidden behind many of our day-to-day interactions is powered by an AI algorithm related to machine learning, natural language processing or more generally unstructured data processing, intelligent search, intelligent agents and robotics. And, while AI is ubiquitous, we have only scratched the surface regarding what it can mean for us.

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About the Author

Anand Rao is a principal in PwC’s advisory practice. He leads the insurance analytics practice, is the innovation lead for the U.S. firm’s analytics group and is the co-lead for the Global Project Blue, Future of Insurance research. Before joining PwC, Rao was with Mitchell Madison Group in London.

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