AI: Five things to know

As we learn more and increasingly adopt the power of Artificial Intelligence (AI), how much do we really know about where it came from – and what it can do for us?

1. AI: is not new

The first piece of AI, the artificial neuron, was developed in 1943 by scientist William McCulloch and logician Walter Pitts. By 1950, Alan Turing was asking the question, “Can machines think?” in his seminal paper Computing Machinery and Intelligence. Since then, many machines have strived to pass the Turing Test, and although a chatbot called Eugene Goostman managed to convince a third of the panel that it was a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy in 2014, many would argue that the spirit of Turing’s assessment was not met and, that machines are not really thinking, yet. However, they have come a long way, and AI offers powerful tools that many leaders are seeking to utilise in the twin quest for commercial success and operational excellence.

2. AI: is adding value now

Improving the quality and accessibility of meaningful data is top of the agenda in many organisations. Data is often stored on disparate systems and over time the source and subsequent trustworthiness of the data deteriorates but new tools and approaches are bringing AI-backed insight on behaviour and predictive trends direct to your laptop.

Jane Moran, Unilever’s CIO, speaking at a Microsoft event in London explained how combining a data lake with Microsoft’s Power BI tool was transforming the quality and value of their insight across the business. Moran said, “we are improving the accuracy of our forecasting, which is a big deal. We have seen improvements with lean inventory metrics, we can even spot slow moving goods before they become slow moving.” She continued, “We have done more in the last six months than we have done in the last six years. It’s amazing how fast this is going and it’s very simple. Our source data, structured and unstructured, internal and external, is the basis.”

Improving accessibility to trustworthy data is clearly paying dividends for Unilever and they are not alone. Amazon, Tesla, and Microsoft are all pioneering change using AI and more traditional companies like IBM are literally betting their future on its value. The reality is that almost all businesses can start to deliver insight through AI applications. According to Dr. Mark Esposito who delivers Harvard’s Artificial Intelligence in Business programme, “most businesses thinking about AI realistically and strategically can achieve their goals.”

3. AI: is not without its challenges.

According to a recent survey of 1,000 executives across 11 industry sectors by MIT, The Global AI Agenda, 72%  had begun deploying AI by 2018, and 87% by 2019. Although the deployment levels are high, and many companies are developing useful applications the report identified that far from all are bearing fruit, yet. It also stated that although “early AI adopters are benefitting the most…[they] also have war stories.”

Most respondents believed that within three years AI will be adding value in their organisations, but not in all aspects. “Deployed widely though it is, AI is not about to conquer the enterprise.” According to the report, many sectors feel the real value will be in less than a third of their business processes, so a targeted and strategic deployment is most likely to offer dividends.

4. AI: is keeping watch

The “Sharp Eyes,” or Xue Liang rural surveillance program works in conjunction with the urban “Skynet” and “Safe Cities” networks and uses AI supported facial recognition software to collect behavioural data on China’s 1.4 billion citizens. The specified aim is to defend the civilian population from threats of crime, terror and natural disasters. China is not alone in monitoring and surveillance applications through facial recognition software, but the scale and openness of the activity is unique.

About 176 million video surveillance cameras monitored China’s streets, buildings and public spaces in 2016, compared with 50 million in the U.S. According to China File’s review of the system “The cameras would be arrayed to align with the “four basic needs” of human life: food, clothing, housing, and transportation and five additional “quality-of-life needs”: healthcare; finance; arts, education, and culture; entertainment; and leisure travel. The state-of-the-art facial recognition cameras are intended to be installed at the entrances and exits of restaurants, grocery stores, shopping malls, bus stations, kindergartens, movie theatres, and even a martial arts gym—where they could detect the faces of passers-by and feed these “portraits” back into a larger monitoring system,” all analysed by AI.

5. AI: is helping us live longer.

Medical applications for AI are wide-ranging, including early disease detection, developing new medicines, streamlining the patient experience and robotic support in operations. Many of these are not just at the cutting edge of medical technology, but also of AI – according to MIT, Enlitic, a company that develops deep-learning medical tools to streamline radiology diagnoses is the 5th smartest artificial intelligence company in the world.

Innovations in earlier detection of Cancer and other diseases are being enhanced by AI. In one study, for example, an AI model using algorithms and deep learning diagnosed breast cancer at a higher rate than 11 pathologists. While of course different companies are utilising different approaches, the use of AI is a dominant theme. Freenome uses AI in screenings, diagnostic tests and blood work to test for cancer. At Harvard University’s teaching hospital, Doctors are using AI-enhanced microscopes to scan for harmful bacteria’s (like E. coli and staphylococcus) in blood samples at a faster rate than is possible using manual scanning.

With multiple applications across all sectors, talent in the Digital space and specifically those with AI skills and experience are in demand. At Norman Broadbent, the Digital practice has been integral in sourcing the right Digital talent across multiple sectors and applications. As a result, we have learnt that Artificial Intelligence is something all industries need to embrace. Those who take ownership and incorporate its capability and capacity now will succeed in pushing the boundaries of product design and innovation. This is cultural as much as it is technical but if the last year has taught us anything it is that we can adapt faster than any of us thought possible.

Norman Broadbent’s agile approach and commercial structure offers clients the ability to create a bespoke solution which suits their needs without any dilution of quality. In addition, our expertise and experience help Boards and Leadership teams identify and fulfil their business-critical requirements.  If you would like to discuss this piece in more detail, the wider market, and/or your growth plans or challenges, please do not hesitate to contact Andrew Smith via for an initial confidential discussion.