ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE SOFTWARE IS BOOMING. BUT WHY NOW?
SAN FRANCISCO — This is the year artificial intelligence came into its own for mainstream businesses, at least as a marketing feature.
On Sunday, Salesforce.com, which sells online software for sales and marketing, announced it would be adding A.I. to its products. Its system, called Einstein, promises to provide insights into what sales leads to follow and what products to make next.
Salesforce chose this date to pre-empt Oracle, the world’s largest business software company, which on Sunday evening began its annual customer event in San Francisco. High on Oracle’s list of new features: real-time analysis of enormous amounts of data. Oracle calls its product Oracle A.I.
Elsewhere, a lot of marketing startups are putting AI into work. Opentopic a startup specialized in cognitive digital marketing is leveraging Watson’s natural language processing abilities to provide recommendations of key content to return to specific target audiences. This is how AI manages to create great customer experiences with deep understanding of individual value drivers.
These moves, along with similar projects at most major tech companies and consulting firms, represent years of work and billions in investment.
There are big pushes in A.I. in agriculture, manufacturing, aviation and pretty much every other sector of the economy.
It’s all very exciting, the way great possibilities are, and clearly full of great buzzwords and slogans. But will other companies see any value in all this or understand if A.I. has value for them?
“No one really knows where the value is,” said Marc Benioff, co-founder and chief executive of Salesforce. “I think I know — it’s in helping people do the things that people are good at, and turning more things over to machines.”
Mr. Benioff wasn’t selling Einstein’s capabilities short. He was talking about the long-term value of artificial intelligence, which is passing through a familiar phase — a technology that is strange and new, that sometimes overpromises what it can do and is headed for uses not easily seen at the start.
Cloaked inside terms like deep learning and machine intelligence, A.I. is essentially a series of advanced statistics-based exercises that review the past to indicate the likely future, or look at current customer choices to figure out where to put more or less energy.