Tech terminology busted: How best to apply AI to your business

Artificial intelligence (AI) may sound futuristic (and sometimes intimidating), particularly when accompanied by insider jargon and a dizzying array of buzz words from ‘bots’ to ‘machine learning’ and ‘data science’.

However, AI, as well as other technologies, are increasingly a part of doing business in the digital economy. AI can also provide opportunities for businesses of all sizes to improve how they design products, grow their market and serve their customers.

Here is a rundown of terms you may need to get a handle on to understand what’s happening and what’s possible in a world of business powered by the next generation of technologies.

 

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE OR ‘AI’

The first thing to do is figure out ‘what is AI’ and ‘what isn’t AI’? There is general agreement that, to count as AI, a system must have the ability to learn and to gather data, such as images and natural language, that simulate human intelligence.

You probably interact with AI more often than you realise – recommendation engines like Google are examples of AI in action. Every time an engine guesses the end of your search sentence, it is using what it has learnt from the billions of people who searched before you. This sort of AI is often considered ‘narrow’ AI – it does one thing very well. In e-commerce, for example, ‘narrow’ AI can be utilised to improve search results for online shoppers, unlocking the potential to improve customer loyalty as customers see products that are specifically tailored to their interests and needs.

However, when AI systems can process information, make decisions and learn (what is often called ‘broad’ AI) this opens a world of potential for business and the economy. Driverless cars, which are already on the roads in California and being tested around the Olympic Park in East London, could radically change logistics and delivery. This technology can also take personalisation in the retail and hospitality sectors to a new level. The Amsterdam headquarters of professional services firm Deloitte can recognize employees and their vehicles and, thanks to 28,000 sensors, can direct employees to parking or work spaces, adjust the lighting and even make them a coffee just the way they like it.

AUGMENTED REALITY AND VIRTUAL REALITY

Virtual reality (VR) is the term used to describe a three-dimensional, computer generated simulation of an experience in which a user feels immersed – usually using a headset. VR has already had a major impact on the computer gaming industry and now this technology is being deployed to drive up sales and enhance customer experience. In the hospitality trade, the hotel chain Marriott uses a VR headset to allow event organisers and customers to “see” a 360-degree, 3D view of what their event could look like, de-risking the decision for all parties and potentially increasing the decision to go ahead with the sale.

Augmented reality (AR), on the other hand, provides layers of ‘extra’ reality to generate an enhanced view of the world – allowing us to see objects or labels which aren’t actually there. An example of an AR use case in the property industry would be the ability to point your phone camera at a building and, in addition to seeing the building, also seeing its history or estimated value.

As well as providing visual information at the-point-of-a-camera, this can be used by brands to enable customers to test or try out merchandise, such as a furniture buyer previewing how a couch would look in their living room whilst shopping online.

CHAT BOTS

Another technology you may have come across in your life is chatbots. Chatbots are boxes that pop up on a web site inviting you to ‘chat’ with a business – as you would with a friend on a messaging app. The difference between messaging apps and chatbots is that there is not always an actual person at the other end of a chatbot – it might be an automated system driven by AI. Chatbots can vary in complexity with some only able to respond based on a set of stock answers for simple questions such as store opening hours, delivery problems and returns policies. Chatbots that are fueled by AI can be particularly powerful. These bots can provide useful responses that are tailored to each user’s needs, and can learn from each interaction, improving over time.

Hotels around the world are now using chatbot concierges that provide on-demand customer assistance including: recommendations for nearby attractions, ability to make bookings at restaurants and answering queries from guests. Integrating chatbots with messaging apps such as Facebook is also becoming the next big thing in retail.

MACHINE LEARNING

Machine learning is the science of how computers make sense of data using algorithms and analytic models. Machine learning is what enables bots to learn and engage with us in a more natural and personalized way. Examples of machine learning that you may have encountered in your everyday life include Netflix movie recommendations and internet ads based on your browsing history. These programs use and learn from past performance data to improve over time. Marketing automation tools – which are growing across the experience, retail and e-commerce industries – learn what people want, and can help businesses target their marketing activities to people who are (based on what the machine has learnt) more likely to buy their products.

THE INTERNET OF THINGS (IoT)

The Internet of Things or ‘IoT’ refers to physical devices which are networked through a connection to the internet. The physical device can range from anything – cell phones to lampposts, headphones to washing machines, components of a jet engine, or pretty much anything else you can think of in the world. IoT has the potential to create a huge network of connected ‘things’ that collects information, analyses it, and creates actions. You can think of it as the eyes and ears (and potentially the ‘hands’) of the internet – the connected physical world.

In the food and drink sector, this connected network can be used to tell staff when fridges aren’t working or have been left open in a shop. This connectivity has the potential to massively cut down on time wasted as well as keeping produce fresher for customers. In the United States, Walmart claims to already be saving about £1.4 billion a year using IoT.

Now that you know how to navigate the world of AI and technology – take the next step and learn more about how these products can help boost your business.

AI-powered products are helping brands to improve customer experience, personalise their messaging and boost efficiency for their business. Apply today to the Mayor’s Technology for Business programme and you’ll be invited to receive tailored advice and have an expert on AI talk through how you can plan your future with AI, as well as the chance to win access to part of a £200,000 pot to spend on technology.

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