Kevin Kelly is quoted as saying that “The business plans of the next 10,000 startups are easy to forecast: take X and add AI”. Indeed, and 2017 may well be the year A.I. becomes a buzzword because just about every new product and service is pitching it as a strength and point of differentiation (more on that below).
Artificial intelligence is one the 10 key essential technologies that will drive the Next Economy. According to research firm Venture Scanner, 2016 is on pace to be the highest funding year for A.I. related startups at over 2 billion dollars. So, we’re just getting started.
What’s driving this surge in activity?
A.I. isn’t new, its been around for years. But today it’s surging because of three key breakthroughs: cheap parallel computing, big data and better algorithms.
Up until a year ago, unless you’re a huge tech company, not everyone had access to these resources. For example, throughout or day to day activities, checking and responding email, messages, checking our calendar, sorting through content to read, requesting a Uber, deciding which video or movie to watch next, we’re in contact with A.I. by using products and services from the largest tech companies in the world: Google, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple.
That’s changing today.
All of these large companies have never pitched their A.I. capabilities up until this year when all of them drew a line in the sand and set their sights on the conquering A.I.. Other companies, large and small, are now shifting and catching up; setting the stage for a race to capture the Holy Grail of technology.
Earlier this year Facebook and Microsoft announced their own platform for chatbots, guaranteeing most everyone would jump on the bandwagon and turn A.I. into a buzzword. Chatbots are “intelligent agents”, like Siri, Cortana and Alexa, but text based that we interact with through Facebook Messenger and other messaging platforms.
It is here where many upstarts have set their sights to begin “experimenting” with an A.I. technology called NLP (natural language processing). But these bots are not intelligent yet, most are response mechanisms for common tasks that might not require human intervention.
It is here, chatbots, where most I see many companies pitching their A.I. capability as a core differentiator. It isn’t. At this point, behind the scenes most every startup’s A.I. capability is powered by either Microsoft’s, Google’s or Facebook’s machine learning framework.
Startups must develop their own framework to really have an unique A.I. capability, which is very hard because it requires commitment, competence and money.
Why do we use buzzwords?
Buzzwords are a necessary evil in technology, advertising and management. The “buzz” about a new technology creates a bubble and by sticking to the associated buzzwords you automatically become one of the cool kids, part of the winning team.
A.I. is an overrated buzzword because it doesn’t yet meet expectations, but we’ll use it anyway because by using buzzwords your ideas become invulnerable for a short moment — because unless there happens to be an actual expert in the room, it is unlikely that someone will spoil the fun and expose the hype for what it is.
The public doesn’t care if the technology isn’t quite there yet, they care about getting their needs met. Still, for most startups, the attention generated by this AI-hype is far too seductive to refrain from using this buzzword to advertise their product or service. However, this comes at the cost of badly managed user expectations: the next 10,000 startups will be pitching their A.I. capability as a point of differentiation, until it isn’t.
A.I. will help us be more productive, but we still have a long way to go before it’s true promise happens. At this point, the best A.I. is still human intelligence; and will be for the foreseeable future.
Bottom line: If you are a user of new products and services, keep you expectations in check and don’t expect miracles from existing solutions being pitched; A.I. it’s still very much a work in progress.
Also published on Medium.