OPINION

Much ado about AI

AI is the new tech buzzword, but can you make it work for you in your business now?

IT'S not a newsflash to say use artificial intelligence (AI) to drive business efficiency in your business to free up capital for growth. Most CEOs have heard this advice. Most are stuck with the fine print: How should they use it?

At Davos last week, the Singapore government released a model framework on how AI can be ethically and responsibly used, sending a clear message to Singapore C-suite executives to get on board.

AI is unquestionably the alpha trend of our times and the most transformative technology of the information age. Applied intelligence, as we like to call this area, is our unique approach that brings together AI technologies with new data sources, a deep talent bench - strategists, researchers, data engineers, data scientists, AI technologists - and a vast ecosystem of platforms and solutions to help clients scale impact.

Here are a few examples of companies that have figured out some solid use-cases for the technology that transforms business efficiency, and sometimes safety, and/or improves the customer experience.

China's Malong Technologies and Accenture's Applied Intelligence practice have formed an alliance to develop ways to use AI in retail. Malong's product recognition and auto-tagging technology, ProductAI, lets machines "see" physical objects the way a person does. Retailers can use it to make product checkouts much more efficient and allow their customers to shop for items by taking a picture of it with their smartphones. At the upcoming Mobile World Congress, Malong will showcase the next-generation vending machine - the "Smart Cabinet". Essentially, it's a smart refrigerator for office environments. Use your smartphone to open it and computer vision will detect which drink or snack you pick and allow you to pay for it with your phone. For consumers, the Smart Cabinet is much more convenient than traditional vending machines. For example, they can take different drinks or snacks out of the fridge to compare nutrition labels for calories or additives, so it's more like an in-store experience.

For beverage companies and other companies equipping offices with vending machines, the Smart Cabinet costs roughly half the traditional price. They're also 10 times faster to stock. To add a new drink or snack, there's no need to equip cans and bottles with RFID tags. All it takes are 20 photos of the product to train the computer vision engine and it can go right into the Smart Cabinet. This isn't just a pilot. A large vending machine supplier just commissioned Malong to equip 20,000 fridges with its technology.

TAL Manufacturing Solutions, a subsidiary of Tata Motors in India, uses the TAL Brabo welding robot on its assembly lines. Welding is a complex and dangerous task. This robot complements human workforces by taking over dull, dangerous and monotonous tasks, while workers are reassigned to safer and more valuable ones.

Startups are leveraging AI to bring to the world new ideas. India's BleeTech and Accenture Labs are enabling the hearing impaired to transform music into vibrations and dance in unison. The BleeWatch - a wearable device - was built using Accenture Labs research in AI, haptics (interaction involving touch) and wearables. The BleeWatch has a "dance" feature that provides tactile feedback to the user through vibrations in sync with the beat of the music. A hearing-impaired user can put it on, feel the music transformed into vibrations and dance to the beat.

AI isn't a future solution, it's a tool that is ready, here and now to be used.

  • Gianfranco Casati is group chief executive of growth markets for Accenture.