Notes from Reality. An Interview with Ray Wang, Founder of Constellation Research

John Taschek
Sep 14, 2016 · 4 min read

This is part of a series of interviews with noted industry analysts, thought leaders, and technologists to better understand the impact that augmented reality and artificial intelligence will have on the customer experience. This interview is with Ray Wang, the founder of Constellation Research, an award-winning, Silicon Valley-based strategic advisory and futurist analyst firm. His new best selling book Disrupting Digital Business, published by Harvard Business Review Press and now globally available, provides insights on why 52% of the Fortune 500 have been merged, acquired, gone bankrupt, or fallen off the list since 2000.

JT: Ray, you have been discussing the concept of augmented humanity. What is it?

R: The notion of artificial intelligence often has folks thinking of the computer on Star Trek or Jarvis in Iron Man. But where we are today is Augmented Humanity. Augmented humanity is about how technology can help humans automate tasks, identify situations faster, and assist in decision making. Technology is there to improve humanity, not to take it over.

JT: AI has been around for a longtime — it‘s been in people‘s minds since computers first arrived. What is different now — and why will it be transformative?

R: John — you are right. Hype around AI came in the late 80’s and 90’s. Many of the algorithms and statistical techniques in machine learning have their roots in the early neural nets. However, the compute power required was prohibitive. Today, cloud computing has given new life by enabling the 7 factors that drive AI today: massive compute power, large data sets, time, awesome math talent and algorithms, rich industry expertise, natural user experiences, and self-learning recommendation engines. When you put these seven factors together, the transformations will disrupt existing business models as AI smart services embed themselves in a number of business processes.

JT: When you think of businesses and business process, what is so wrong that we need to augment humanity?

R: The opportunities come from instrumenting the processes to see patterns. We often take data and apply business processes to achieve information flows. By mining the information flows for patterns, we gain insights. From those insights, we take action.. This data to decisions flow takes a long time for success, often is frought with human errors, and remains isolated from the overall organization. By applying AI, we can augment humanity though seven levels of AI maturity including

Awareness,

Notification,

Recommendation,

Automation,

Prediction,

Prevention,

Situational Awareness

JT: What will happen to companies that don’t embrace on at least a mid-term basis?

R: Organizations that fail to implement AI driven smart services will fall behind. The lack of insights on what customers seek, or how machines operate, or even what behaviors are mission critical in a network puts an organization at a disadvantage. Add the power of the graph and the neural nets, over time, organizations with AI will gain asymmetrical and geometrical advantage. The value of the insights and the ability to achieve situational awareness drive massive competitive advantage and enables a winner takes all market. There is no digital divide. Just winners and losers.

JT: What are the most common objections from clients about AI — are they cost-based? Readiness? Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt?

R: The common objections stem from a lack of awareness on where to start. Most folks start with a business process, but success requires a rethink in business models. By understanding how you want to augment humanity in a business model and applying empathy in the design process organizations can overcome most objections that stem from fear, uncertainty, and doubt. One area that will drive objections is the lack of a global framework on digital ethics. We do have to adopt as baseline of Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics but more are required especially for co-existence of these systems.

JT: Which kinds of companies will be the most aggressively against the implementation of AI?

R: There may be cases where public sector organizations, labor unions, highly skilled professions such as medicine and attorneys that see AI as a threat to their existence. As with labor and process automation in the past two centuries, AI poses a threat to the knowledge workers in the short term, and creative workers in the long run.

JT: What’s the urgency — when is this going to happen?

R: The beginning of AI is here. We’re not going to achieve singularity for at least 50 years, however, small things such as speech, computer vision, robotics, machine learning, and deep learning have made much progress. We are in an era where machine learning drives much of this process and the creation of neural networks power the future. We do have a few barriers in networking bandwidth and compute power ratios, but this will be over come as well.

JT: Does AI need to be a thing, or should it be embedded everywhere — kind of like Amazon’s recommendation engine? You don’t even know AI is being applied to you.

R: We can expect AI to be embedded everywhere. AI will be like air, omni-prescient and omniscient. The only times we will be aware of the shift is when we do something new and the systems have a slight correction as they learn from us.

JT: Finally, what businesses are going to be the first to be disrupted (or transformed) by AI

R: There are huge opportunities for legal professions, medical research, accounting, insurance, and commerce. Areas where knowledge workers once roamed free will see disruptions. While human judgment will be augmented by machines, the number of humans required will be reduced over time.

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John Taschek

Written by

SVP, Market Strategy @salesforce. Described by at least one person as a seething mass of enlightenment. Loves road trips. Has wanderlust of the mind. Works.

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