Is New Zealand business ready for Artificial Intelligence?

01 July 2017

A decade or more ago I used to defeat chess playing computers for a small wager. It was simple stuff really – just find a weakness and ruthlessly exploit it – in my mind computers were basically binary and thus “stupid”. Today chess masters are fair game for computers. My party trick is ancient history and I am frankly a little scared about what happens when computers can outsmart humankind.  Terminator anyone?

Some would argue that we have nothing to fear. Others feel exactly the opposite.

Stephen Hawking recently wrote “The full development of AI could spell the end for the human race”.

Elon Musk – founder of PayPal, Solarcity and Tesla called it “Summoning the demon”.

The impact of AI in New Zealand

Putting aside visions of Arnie and terminators for the moment we should also look at the impact that AI might have on New Zealand businesses.

Most kiwi business owners and leaders are constantly aware of the need to innovate, optimise and seek competitive advantage by being cleverer than the guy overseas. Thus, we find ourselves asking:

  • How do we get the best out of what we have?
  • How do we employ better people and make them more effective?
  • How do we use the limited space we have at our disposal?
  • How do we get the machines that we paid heaps for to be more efficient?

The questions are endless but sadly the time and money we have is not. I cannot count the number of times I have spoken to business people who know what needs to be done to make companies better, faster or quicker but simply don’t have the spare time to do it.

Here is where Artificial Intelligence comes in. It not only analyses the data to answer the question but it can also act on the insight, often in real time.

Don’t believe me? How do you think Amazon remembers your book purchases and even title searches and then suggest others that may be of interest? AI also allows Amazon to identify your location, match it to the right supply chain service to execute the sale and delivery via the cheapest and most direct route.

Amazon’s arrival in Australia is causing tremors across the whole retail industry there. It’s not just books they sell, you name it, they have it, at a price too cheap to resist. At the heart of this frighteningly effective, multinational monster is Artificial Intelligence

We have always had AI – it has just been too expensive to make that much of a difference. Now it’s available as a service from the likes of Google (Google AI) and IBM – (Watson) and numerous clever startups.

The availability of world class AI a via Software as a Service model means that we don’t need supercomputers and massive budgets to take advantage of AI in New Zealand.

Next month I will describe examples of how AI is being used to optimise business’s use of energy and compute resources to save money and compete.