Thinking Ahead 2018

Do you think AI technology like home assistants is a trend or a fad?

Definitely not a fad. Interactive Voice Recognition systems (IVR’s) have been around since the early 2000’s just in different forms. You know the old ‘say yes for account balance’…. What we’ve seen is the underlying technology become a lot more sophisticated — really quickly. And new forms of IVR’s appearing such as an Alexa or Google Home. So it’s definitely not a fad — but we will see it evolve quicker than we’ve seen before thanks to the democratization of technology.

Are there any interesting examples from this year that demonstrate why the above is in fact a trend?

I think the democratization of tech is one of the reasons why. I mean the number of Alexa skills has exploded — in two years there has been 20,000 skills created….due probably in part to the developer ecosystem Amazon has created. I mean even I can build a skill with my limited programming knowledge!

Do you believe we’ll get virtual assistant fatigue in the next 12 months?

I think people will just begin to expect this kind of experience from every interaction that they have with brands. From buying groceries to lodging an insurance claim — experience transferal will ensure not fatigue but demand.
Although I do expect there to be some consolidation in the general purpose assistant market — Alexa or Google Home..who will win?!?!

What will we see happen next? How long will it take?

To my point earlier, there really is an arms race in the general purpose AI space on 2 fronts:
- Get more people developing applications on your platform
- Get more user’s buying and using your platform — aka more data

Who ever wins on both these fronts will ultimately see their market share increase. And as the gap increases it will be harder and harder to close as these general purpose assistant become ingrained in our lives and behaviors.

What’s the sleeper threat for 2018 — AI/Machine Learning, or any other industry — that we should be looking out for?

I see 2 sleeper threats.

  1. Algorithmic bias
    For about a decade now we have left algorithms to decide what emails we read, what music we listen to, what schools we are allowed to go to, what jobs we can apply for….even what prisoners we release on parole! And only now are we slowly starting to think ‘ um, how does this thing actually work? What is it not showing me? What am I missing out on?’ Which has uncovered incredible amounts of unconscious bias. AI amplifies this bias. So we need to take the steps now to ensure that what we have already created and what we create in the future, are ethically and morally buttoned up.
  2. Along the same vein — but I am going to go a little ‘Musk’ on you….
    A question I have been asking myself lately has been… If I had a life threatening ailment and had to choose between an average Dr who has an incredible AI he uses to treat and diagnose, or the leading Dr in that field who has written many a papers on the topic — I would choose the average Dr with the AI…. which actually really surprised me. I would let an algorithm make an important life decision for me, as I know it would be able to consume and analyzes more information than one leading specialist could ever do in his lifetime 10x times over.
    This leads me to think — what will happen to human civilization if we relinquish our right to choose based on the fact that these algorithms would make the best decision for me — by fact, as it can take into account way more data than us humans can….? Hmmm, not sure but an interesting thought to leave you with!!