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AI will be like R2-D2, not Terminator

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As artificial intelligence continues to capture the imagination of the tech and mainstream media, Forrester’s new AI TechRadar report for customer intelligence professionals (CI) takes a pragmatic view of what it can do for business in the future.

Well publicised breakthroughs from major tech companies, like Google, Apple and Amazon, have placed AI high on the technology agenda. However, business leaders are struggling to make sense of how this technology could and should be deployed in their organisations.

“To put it mildly, this is confusing for businesses, who are trying to determine what is real and what is mere snake oil,” writes Forrester senior analyst and co-author of the report, Brandon Purcell. “Forrester believes AI will significantly disrupt the way organisations win, serve, and retain customers… eventually. To do this, it will take massive amounts of data to train artificially intelligent systems to perform their jobs well enough to replace their human counterparts.”

In the report, Forrester points out that as storage and processing power advances, AI is gaining some traction amongst businesses, allowing companies to generate insights and engage with their customers.

Forrester says AI is uniquely suited to help optimise customer interactions across touchpoints and channels. This is largely driven by the technology’s ability to process huge amounts of data, which can inform real time action. Moreover, in the near future, business leaders will be able to blend technologies such as facial scanning, text analytics, machine learning, and natural language generation (NLG) to better engage with their customers.

AI also has the ability to surface insights automatically, with banks today already using such technologies to detect anomaly for fraudulent transactions. Combing through massive data sets will also allow for better data analysis, particularly when it comes to unstructured data.

Despite these early successes, Purcell believes that it may take time and work before the real benefits of AI will be realised.

“AI is not a homogenous set of technologies, and some tasks will take longer to automate than others. And, despite the fact that the goal of AI technology is to free humans from some intelligence tasks so that they may more effectively focus on others, the process of creating this state has significant challenges for human designers and engineers,” Purcell comments in the report.

One of the main challenges facing the adoption of AI into mainstream business is the lack of a clear business case. Forrester points out that the research and academic communities were the first to develop and deploy AI technologies, and businesses are only now jumping onto the bandwagon. Organisations still require a clear ROI to justify an AI investment.

Time and skills are also potential hurdles. Artificially intelligent systems require massive amounts of training data to learn to perform specific tasks. While some vendors offer pre-trained solutions, even these will require many additional hours of training and refinement before they can be deployed.

When it comes to skills in the field, Forrester says there is a clear dearth of talent. “If data scientists are unicorns, then specialists in AI are their even more rarely mentioned winged cousin, Pegasus,”  comments Purcell in the report. “There are a handful of notable researchers in academia who specialise in deep learning and AI, but the talent pool for businesses is extremely shallow. Additionally, since AI adoption for businesses is so nascent, there are even fewer people with the ability to deploy AI in a business context.”

Making use of its TechRadar methodology, Forrester identified and analysed the current and future prospects of 12 AI technologies and solutions in their comprehensive report. According to the analysis, the company placed two technologies in the Creation phase, six in the Survival phase, and four in the Growth phase. None were placed in the Equilibrium or Decline phases due to the relative immaturity of AI, with the company saying that, when it comes to AI, “…we are still in chapter one.”

Summing up the analysis, Forrester points out that, despite many doom-mongers, AI will not be a threat to most jobs. While there may be some losses in the call centre and other positions, for the most part, AI will free employees from banal or onerous tasks with little value-add. The report also assures readers that there is no imminent rise of the machines about to take place and that humankind is not facing an immediate threat from AI. In fact, it is the role of the Customer Intelligence leader to separate the myth from reality.

As part of its extensive AI research and analysis, Forrester has also completed a TechRadar report on AI for application development and delivery professionals.

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Kenya tool to help companies prepare for emergencies

After its team members survived last week’s Nairobi terror attack, Ushahidi decided to release a new preparedness tool for free, writes its CEO, NAT MANNING

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On Tuesday I woke up a bit before 7am in Berkeley, California where I live. I made some coffee and went over to my computer to start my work day. I checked my Slack and the news and quickly found out that there was an ongoing terrorist attack at 14 Riverside Complex in Nairobi, Kenya. The Ushahidi office is in Nairobi and about a third of our team is based there (the rest of us are spread across 10 other countries).

As I read the news, my heart plummeted, and I immediately asked the question, “is everyone on my team okay?”

Five years ago Al-Shabaab committed a similar attack at the Westgate Mall. We spent several tense hours figuring out if any of our team had been in the mall, and verifying that everyone was safe. We found out that one of our team member’s family was caught up in the attack. Luckily they made it out.

At Ushahidi we make software for crisis response, including tools to map disasters and election violence, and yet we felt helpless in the face of this attack. In the days following the Westgate attack, our team huddled and thought about what we could build that would help our team — and other teams — if we found ourselves in a similar situation to this attack again. We identified that when we first learned of the attack, nearly everyone at Ushahidi had spent that first precious few hours trying to answer the basic questions, “Is everyone okay?”, and if not, “Who needs help?” 

People had ad-hoc used multiple channels such as WhatsApp, called, emailed, or texted. We had done this for each person at Ushahidi (their job), in our families, and important people in our community. Our process was unorganised, inefficient, repetitive, and frustrating.

And from this problem we created TenFour, a check in tool that makes it easier for teams to reach one another during times of crisis. It is a simple application that lets people send a message to their team via SMS, Slack, Voice, email, and in-app, and get a response. It also works for educational institutions, companies with distributed staff, as well as part of neighbourhood networks like neighbourhood watches.

This week when I woke up to the news of the attack at Riverside, I immediately opened up the TenFour app.

Click here to read how Nat quickly confirmed the safety of his team.

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Kia multi-collision airbags

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The world’s first multi-collision airbag system has been unveiled by Hyundai Motor Group subsidiary KIA Motors, with the aim of improving airbag performance in multi-collision accidents.

Multi-collision accidents are those in which the primary impact is followed by collisions with secondary objects, such as other vehicles, trees, or electrical posts, which occur in three out of every 10 accidents. Current airbag systems do not offer secondary protection when the initial impact is insufficient to cause them to deploy. 

However, the multi-collision airbag system allows airbags to deploy effectively upon a secondary impact, by calibrating the status of the vehicle and the occupants.

The new technology detects occupants’ positions in the cabin following an initial collision. When occupants are forced into unusual positions, the effectiveness of existing safety technology may be compromised. Multi-collision airbag systems are designed to deploy even faster when initial safety systems may not be effective, providing additional safety when drivers and passengers are most vulnerable. By recalibrating the collision intensity required for deployment, the airbag system responds more promptly during the secondary impact, thereby improving the safety of multi-collision vehicle occupants.

“By improving airbag performance in multi-collision scenarios, we expect to significantly improve the safety of our drivers and passengers,” said Taesoo Chi, head of the Hyundai Motor Group’s Chassis Technology Centre. “We will continue our research on more diverse crash situations as part of our commitment to producing even safer vehicles that protect occupants and prevent injuries.”

According to statistics by the National Automotive Sampling System Crashworthiness Data System (NASS-CDS), an office of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in USA, about 30% of 56,000 vehicle accidents from 2000 to 2012 in the North American region involved multi-collisions. The leading type of multi-collision accidents involved cars crossing over the centre line (30.8%), followed by collisions caused by a sudden stop at highway tollgates (13.5%), highway median strip collisions (8.0%), and sideswiping and collision with trees and electric poles (4.0%). 

These multi-collision scenarios were analysed in multilateral ways to improve airbag performance and precision in secondary collisions. Once commercialised, the system will be implemented in future new KIA vehicles. 

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