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Artificial intelligence is the new digital divide

An article in Wired, “Google, Facebook and Microsoft are remaking themselves around AI”, highlights a topic I’ve been discussing for a long time now: the efforts technology giants are making to educate their employees at all levels by incorporating talent and developing new products based on machine learning and artificial intelligence in order to change how they organize and operate their businesses.

In a very short time, we have gone from the AI Winter and seeing these types of technologies as something out of science fiction to finding ourselves in the middle of a rapidly changing reality with advances appearing each day to the point that the development of this type of technology and its application to more and more areas is beginning to create a digital divide between the companies that have it and those that do not.

From the viewpoint of a business school, the phenomenon can be clearly seen: the demand for executives able to understand this area is increasing, reflected by increased demand for courses related to the subject from year to year, while such content is incorporated into virtually all programs at all levels, from a simple understanding of the concepts to analysis at the highest level.

Several of the entrants in this field seem to have a reasonably clear strategy to develop machine learning platforms and to offer them to third parties through Machine Learning as a Service (MLaaS). In this context, which I follow with great interest given my work as a strategic advisor at BigML, are large companies like Amazon (its traditional strategy, develop any service, be it logistics, cloud computing or whatever, and open it to others), Microsoft, IBM, Facebook and Google, to smaller companies that are usually faster and more agile at product development.

The challenge, of course, is to create easy-to-use platforms that do not require hiring dozens of data scientists, and that adapt to the demands of companies that, in many cases, do not know exactly what they want or what is even possible. At the moment, most companies’ approach to this kind of technology is. “I’ve seen somebody else with it and I want it too”, so the real barrier to entry is not really technology, but ignorance of its possibilities.

We are at a historic juncture: many of the new MLaaS platforms make using machine learning similar to our first experiences using spreadsheets, when we suddenly realized that we could carry out complex scenarios and calculating matrixes without knowing that we were doing matrix mathematics — or without even knowing what the heck matrix mathematics was.

In short, very soon, companies will be divided between those who are able to take advantage of artificial intelligence and machine learning for their day-to-day operations, and those that continue to operate as they always have, making them much less productive and much more unpredictable. We are talking here about the emergence of a new digital divide, a virtually Darwinian event in terms of competitiveness.

Which side will you be on?


(En español, aquí)