The past 30 years have seen incredible growth and innovation in the tech industry. We’ve gone from pocket calculators and PCs to pocket computers more powerful than the mammoth mainframe computers of the 1980s. The Atari 800XL computer I used in high school to develop games was powered by a microprocessor with 3,500 transistors – the one running my iPhone today has 2 billion transistors. The cost of a gigabyte of storage was in the range of $100,000 and the size of a refrigerator. Today, it’s basically free and size is measured in millimetres.
This is incredible progress, and today the pace of technology change is moving even faster. The entire planet of people and things is becoming connected. Five billion people have access to a mobile device, and more than 3 billion of the world’s citizens can instantly connect with almost anyone around the world via the internet. In the next few years, 50 billion things – everything from light bulbs and refrigerators to roads and clothing – will be connected to the internet.
Every generation or so, a number of emerging technologies converge, and something revolutionary occurs. Over the past decade, a maturing internet, increasing bandwidth, compressing costs and Apple's now iconic iPhone paved the way for companies like Uber, Airbnb, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to upend industries and redefine the mobile customer experience for billions of users. We are on the cusp of one of those disruptive shifts again. For the first time, artificial intelligence (AI) is moving into the mainstream, and thanks to the convergence of increasing computing power, big data and machine learning, it’s reshaping the world we live in and our relationships with technology and each other.
Following Einstein’s dictum – the definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple – AI is about reducing complexity and embedding machine intelligence in many aspects of our lives. As it evolves, AI will become a defining technology of the 21st century, just as the microprocessor was in the 20th century.
As consumers we already experience AI as an integral part of our daily lives. Google uses machine learning to autocomplete search queries, predicting what you are looking for with great accuracy. Facebook news feeds and Amazon product recommendations are targeted just for you via machine learning algorithms. And self-driving cars apply various AI techniques to avoid collisions and traffic congestion. AI has become a worthy game player, teaching itself how to play the complex, ancient board game Go, and beating the best human player in the world.
Today, every company faces an intelligence imperative – to harness the power of AI and integrate it into its products and services. Every company wants to be as smart as Uber in using networks and data to deliver intelligent customer experiences and make smarter business decisions. The generations who have grown up digitally now expect companies to anticipate their needs and provide instant, even personalized responses at every touchpoint, across every device.
But AI has largely been out of reach for the majority of businesses due to the cost and complexity of delivering intelligence in apps. Most business decisions today are made based more on instinct than data – just a small percent of the business data available is used to inform decision making.