Tag Archives: National Science Foundation

Robots and AI—It’s Just the Beginning

You’ve probably had regular help from a virtual assistant by phone or online, assisting you with basic tasks such as directing your call or giving you your bank balance. Helpful, right? The companies that employ the virtual assistants think so, too, and are applying these AI/robotic processes to more and more of their everyday business operations.

Often called out for being slow to change, the insurance industry is beginning to catch up quickly. It’s making sweeping changes across organizations and core systems because of the disruptive emergence of insurtech. Carriers like Celina and USAA are using AI in their daily operations and reaping the benefits.

As a result, insurers are now either delivering — or are in the process of delivering — a great digital experience to consumers. Once complete, this transformation will entail an entirely new way of doing business and servicing customers.

See also: Strategist’s Guide to Artificial Intelligence

There are four main technologies to keep in mind:

Robots

Robotics is the branch of technology that deals with the design, construction, operation and application of robots, virtual or physical. They are autonomous or semi-autonomous machines or systems that can act independently.

Artificial Intelligence

AI is the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making and translation. AI is software that learns and improves. Some robots can use AI to improve their capability by learning, but that is optional.

Cognitive Computing

Cognitive computing technologies are a subset of AI. Cognitive computing “refers to computing that is focused on reasoning and understanding at a higher level, often in a manner that is analogous to human cognition,” writes Lynne Parker, director of the division of information and intelligent systems for the National Science Foundation, in Computerworld. “This is a subset of AI that deals with cognitive behaviors we associate with ‘thinking’ as opposed to perception and motor control.”

Robotic Process Automation

Insurtech consultant Celent defines robotic process automation (RPA) as a set of technologies that can automate processes that currently require human involvement. Robots replicate human behavior to conduct the tasks as a human would; robots also optimize the tasks. RPA can yield benefits when applied to the right roles. It does well supporting repetitive tasks in various environments where there is little change, often back-office support roles and tasks.

Accenture found that cost savings after deploying RPA can reach as high as 80% and time saved on tasks as high as 90%. Automating repetitive processes means tasks are completed quickly with fewer errors, opening up new opportunities for employees to focus on more customer-centric tasks.

But RPA is not the answer to everything. It does not think, reason or predict. It completes simple, repetitive tasks quickly, but it does not learn or self-improve. Developing an enterprise-wide strategy to determine where RPA provides the most value and to anticipate the organizational change that may result is the prudent approach.

The Future Is Here

IBM’s Watson and Amazon’s Alexa are early examples. Insurers already have joined the revolution. Celina Insurance Group uses an analytics-based agency prospecting tool to appoint agents in high-potential underserved areas. USAA’s “Nina” is an AI virtual assistant that chats with customers on the USAA website. It’s designed to respond to 120 questions, from reporting stolen payment cards to changing a PIN.

See also: The Big Lesson From Amazon-Whole Foods  

There will inevitably be lessons to learn from successes and failures of this first wave of robotics and AI. However, early adopters of these technologies also risk success. Investing in innovation is what will allow insurers to stay ahead of disruption and, in some cases, create it.

As robots evolve, their capabilities and applications will no doubt be vast. Just as we could not have predicted how the internet — and now the Internet of Things — would evolve, robotics and artificial intelligence will likely follow the same course.

What Loneliness Does to Your Health

One of the myriad reasons workplace wellness is not performing well is that all humans have about 100 risk factors, of which obesity, high blood sugar, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are only four. If those four are in pretty good shape but the other 96 are out of whack, don’t expect good health results.

Further, putting bandages on symptoms of metabolic disease has limitations. Such bandages do not address the root causes of metabolic syndrome. According to Wiki, “Root cause analysis (RCA) is a method of problem solving used for identifying the root causes of faults or problems. A factor is considered a root cause if removal thereof from the problem-fault sequence prevents the final undesirable event from recurring; whereas a causal factor is one that affects an event’s outcome but is not a root cause. Though removing a causal factor can benefit an outcome, it does not prevent its recurrence within certainty.” [Emphasis mine.]

One thing sorely missing from most modern wellness methods is RCA. Unless one deals with RCA in metabolic syndrome, it will continue to recur.

Some other huge health risks factors are job misery, terrible marriages, very poor money-handling skills, envy, general lack of contentment in life and loneliness. Another health risk is how far you live from a “dial-911 first responder.” Yet another is how safe your neighborhood is. I could go on and on. Worksite wellness does nothing to address the vast majority of personal health risks. My book, An Illustrated Guide to Personal Health, elaborates on such health risks.

This article will cover just one of those risks, loneliness, which among other things is a root cause of metabolic syndrome. (Let’s hope this information does not inspire true believers in wellness penalties to look for ways to charge lonely employees higher payroll deductions.)

Loneliness harms your immune system, makes you depressed, diminishes cognitive skills and can lead to heart disease, vascular disease, cancer and more. Loneliness is roughly the health risk equivalent of being a diabetic who smokes and drinks too much. Read on.

An article from the National Science Foundation explores the health hazards of loneliness. According to this article, “Research at Rush University has shown that older adults are more likely to develop dementia if they feel chronic loneliness.”

Moreover, John Cacioppo, neuroscience researcher of the University of Chicago, says of loneliness, “One of the things that surprised me was how important loneliness proved to be. It predicted morbidity. It predicted mortality. And that shocked me.”

Dr. Sanjay Gupta recently wrote, “The combination of toxic effects [of loneliness] can impair cognitive performance, compromise the immune system and increase the risk for vascular, inflammatory and heart disease.”

According to studies in Europe, loneliness has about the same health risk as obesity.

An article in Caring.com says, “A 2010 Brigham Young University review of studies involving more than 300,000 people concluded that loneliness is as unhealthy as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic.

This is a headline in the U.K.’s Express: “Loneliness is as big a KILLER as diabetes.” The article describes how loneliness is like a deadly disease that decreases life expectancy and makes you more susceptible to cancer, heart disease and stroke. The study behind that conclusion was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Here are some personal observations:

Why do many people have so few friends as they age?

  • Maintaining long-term friendships takes a lot of work and investment of time.
  • Don’t let your career stand in the way. Don’t wait for someone to befriend you; reach out.
  • Some people have invested their time and energy solely in a spouse, who may predecease them by 25 years, or in children, who fly the nest in time.
  • Many people have invested much in work-related friendships, which, while genuine at the time, can wilt almost immediately when they retire or move on.
  • In friendships, one has to give more than he takes. Make yourself likable. Who wants to spend time with someone who complains all the time? People like that are often avoided by people around them.
  • Be a good listener.
  • If you’re lonely, try joining something…a place of worship, a book club, a hiking club, anything. In every community are places where everyone is welcome.

In the end, a true measure of your wealth is the number of lifelong friends you have. Having lifelong friends is a joy and a perfect cure for loneliness.

I’m Betting You Won’t Hit That Number

In Bay of Pigs, the Untold Story, Peter Wyden reveals that when asked by President Kennedy to assess the CIA invasion plan, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff responded that it had a “fair chance” of success. Kennedy took that as a positive assessment. Instead, the Chiefs meant that they judged the chances of success as “3 to 1 against.” But the misunderstanding wasn’t clarified at the time.

Unfortunately, Kennedy’s misinterpretation of the Joint Chiefs’ assessment is not uncommon. For whatever reason, they gave a qualitative answer. Perhaps “fair chance” was well-understood terminology at the Pentagon. Kennedy certainly didn’t get the intended meaning.

A straightforward method to dispel such confusion comes from my friend, Gordon Bell. Gordon is a pioneer in the computer industry, having developed the first minicomputer at Digital Equipment and having managed that company’s 4,000 engineers. After leaving Digital, Gordon headed computer science research at the National Science Foundation, where he was instrumental in the commercialization of the Internet. After that, Gordon became an active “angel” investor in start-ups.

Gordon has a wonderful bluntness about him. At Digital, he was known for saying things such as, “The most reliable parts of a computer are the ones you leave out.” As an investor, he used that bluntness and found one remarkably simple way to at least see whether innovation proponents had the courage of their convictions.

For example, when someone made a presentation on critical assumptions and forecasts underpinning a proposed strategy, Gordon would zero in on one number and ask the CEO: “Wanna bet? A side bet, you and me, for $1,000. I’m saying you won’t hit that number.”

If the CEO gulped, Gordon knew that in his heart he had doubts.

Even though executives clearly take the issues seriously when they are making corporate commitments of millions or billions of dollars, there’s something about betting your own money that makes you think twice.

More generally, framing forecasts as personal bets forces those involved to be very clear. Also, the use of odds in bets forces everyone to be precise about probabilities. Had President Kennedy, for example, forced the Joint Chiefs to quantify their estimate, he would have realized that their “fair chance of success” estimate really translated to a “three in four” chance of failure.

Structuring bets clarifies time estimates, as well. For example, senior managers at one client generally held the assumption that an important revenue stream from information was going to go away as the information became available from public sources online. The assumption was so widely held that no one thought to get more specific, until we asked everyone to write down how long they thought it would be before the revenue fell below a certain level. Some thought the group was six months away from that level. Some thought six years. Getting the assumptions on the table led to a valuable discussion that produced a sharper strategy.

I’m not suggesting that personal bets should replace rigorous analysis. Still, betting on the most critical assumptions upon which a complicated, ambitious strategy depends serves as an invaluable gut check on likelihood of overall success. If you’re not willing to bet on it, at acceptable odds, it is important to figure out why.