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Artifical Intelligence

Larry Ellison: AI changes everything

At CloudWorld in Las Vegas last week, Oracle’s founder set the tone for the biggest shift in strategy for the software business since the PC, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Artificial intelligence (AI) changes everything. With that opening statement in his keynote address at Oracle CloudWorld conference in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Oracle founder and chairman Larry Ellison set the tone for the biggest shift in strategy for the software business since the arrival of the personal computer. And it will have a profound impact on business and consumers.

“Generative AI is a revolution, a breakthrough, fundamentally changing things at Oracle,” he said. “This makes AI central to almost everything we’re doing and fundamentally changes how we build applications, run applications; it changes everything.

 “Is generative AI the most important new computer technology ever? Probably. One thing is for certain – we will find out, because countless billions of dollars are being invested in generative AI and language models.”

The second biggest software company in the world after Microsoft, Oracle is market leader in database systems, processing more business and customer data than any other organisation. This gives it a first-hand view of change as it happens. Oracle itself unveiled new AI capabilities across most of its products and services. And it was highly specific in the impact these will have on day-to-day activity.

The Oracle Fusion suite of cloud-based applications, for example, will include a wide range of new AI capabilities for improving customer experience:

  • “Assisted authoring” will help customer service representatives write responses to customers more quickly and accurately.
  • “Assisted knowledge” will help document standard operating procedures for complex problems more quickly and accurately.
  • “Search augmentation” will help employees find the best solution to a customer’s question more quickly.
  • Customer engagement summaries will summarise the history of communications with a customer for customer service representatives who are new to the case.
  • AI-suggested troubleshooting content will help technicians in the field to resolve problems more quickly and efficiently.

Richard Smith, Oracle executive vice president for technology across Europe, Middle East and Africa, told Business Times that there were several fundamental differences in the way AI is being embraced in Western markets compared to countries like South Africa.

“There are varying degrees of adoption,” he said. “If you look across some of the larger regions, in North America right now there are there are significant funding levels and companies making significant and major commercial AI bets. In African countries and the Middle East, the governments are driving AI agendas or looking to strongly support them in a spirit of innovation for the country. Some of those are quite mature and some of them not so much.

“A lot of the time when I’m visiting a region or making a call on a public sector customer, I’m asked how I can help both in terms of providing capacity and providing intelligence and support in that space. A lot of customers are asking, ‘what do I do with it? What should I do with it? Do I need to touch it at all?’ The winners are going to be the people who ask the best questions.”

Smith said he talks to many banks, including those in South Africa, at a very senior level.

“What they tell me is, ‘I’m a good bank. 90% of what I do is consistent with what my competition does. How can I use AI to define and innovate against that remaining 10%, that creates a better set of services versus my competition, and can grow my organisation? How they can be better and be more efficient is the type of question starting to emerge industry by industry by industry. That will start to morph into things that are very, very good for the world, from a commercial standpoint, from a personal and from a social welfare standpoint.”

The most intensive activity, however, is not coming from large organisations, said Smith.

“We see across your region a very high propensity of start-ups, small groups of companies, small groups of people, experimenting with AI. That is often industry driven, whether it’s a healthcare question, whether it’s around government or digital services. Right now, there is massive activity, but the overwhelming focus is where you just get a group of very smart people who say look, we have this capability, we have this learning model, what can we do? That to me, is where the excitement starts to come up.”

In many cases, the impact of AI will not be obvious to the ordinary person in the street, but the benefits will be dramatic, especially in healthcare. Oracle is heavily focused on the sector, and last year made its biggest acquisition yet, buying the electronic health records firm Cerner for $28-billion.

“The question was, ‘Hang on, you’re a cloud technology provider, why are you buying a healthcare company? Why is that important?’ Larry’s view is that you can use data, and AI and machine learning to identify, for example, the next pathogen before it occurs, and do so at speed. If you can use AI to identify oncology patterns, you can individualise cancer treatments for individuals based on genomic sequencing.”

During a panel discussion, Mike Scilia, EVP of Oracle Global Industries, said that other sectors would also see dramatic advances.

“If you think about retail business and hospitality business and food, and beverage, the customer loyalty scenario can really be enhanced with everyday customer outreach. All these things can be personalised, based on buying patterns, based on interaction patterns. I don’t think there’s an industry that is not affected. There’s an application or use cases across every industry.”

Ellison himself neatly summed up the significance of generative AI of the kind that was launched by ChatGPT last November, and sparked the current AI frenzy:

“ChatGPT has captured our imagination. Most new technology does not capture the attention of heads of state. This is like the Sputnik moment.”

* This article first appeared on The Sunday Times.

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