31/07/2014

By David Senior, CEO, Lowdownapp Limited


The perception of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is that it something best reserved for science fiction. From the movies The Matrix and Terminator to War Games, AI has been depicted as the ultimate platform through which to anni-hilate the human species. However, it is already being used in ‘narrow’ form far more benignly in business and the potential is huge. It will not be long be-fore most companies commonly use it.

The most widely used example of narrow AI is Apple’s Siri voice command service, but the technology will have a major influence on business. It will make significant differences to the performance of many companies, create efficiency savings, build greater understanding of key subject areas, allow bet-ter planning and change the way in which many people work.

Narrow AI’s significance lies in the logic driven process it uses to condense time-consuming human actions into a fraction of a second. Typically it searches through massive amounts of information and accurately extracts on-ly the relevant information needed. Not only that, it also provides updates to changing circumstance, and allows users to keep in touch with any relevant third parties.

Siri may be the best-known application, however, you do not need the budget of a mega corporation to exploit the technology. More importantly, it can be used in more complex ways than Siri. The resulting information produced by the Apple service is relatively lightweight. Ask it where the nearest coffee shop is and you will get suggestions with the ability to view the location of each suggestion on a map. But it could just as easily give you this information along with travel options and journey times from where you are, a weather forecast for the intended destination, and the nearest visitor attractions, plus any number of bolt on factors such as telling friends where you will be.

Lowdown is a good demonstration of how narrow AI works to create multiple layers of valuable contextual information. It is a mobile first business service for iPhone that helps busy professionals by bringing together the most popular organiser functions and presents them in one app.

Lowdown works very simply by the user creating or accepting a calendar invi-tation using any calendar service (Google, Outlook etc). Lowdown automati-cally generates relevant information around a meeting. It displays travel op-tions, when to leave for meetings, the time it will take, a map, profiles of indi-viduals and companies that will be present, tweets by them, shared personal and company connections, plus recent email correspondence – all in an in-stant, without spending time searching the web, diaries, timetables, maps or asking for directions. Any emails or Tweet updates by meeting attendees can easily be monitored, and responded to.

Lowdown demonstrates how narrow AI can be used to make significant time-savings by forgoing manual processes. In this case searching timetables, maps and making web searches. But it also provides updates on changing circumstances and gives the user the confidence that they will arrive at meet-ings informed and on time.

Narrow AI is not governed by the capacity of the iPhone or severs. This is be-cause it instantly filters and condenses existing information hosted elsewhere, and contextually and logically extracts what is needed. It follows simple nar-rowly defined instruction to undertake tasks that would have to be completed manually taking many hours, or could not be extracted at all by other means.

As the name suggests, the narrower the remit the more logical the response will be, but it can be used to gather many different pieces of information at the same time in order to create a clear picture of given situations. Narrow AI will find what the user needs to know based on context. For example, in sales it can be used to create instant data on potential new customer prospects, en-hance information on those already identified, and improve prospect data modeling. And this can include personal information about sales targets, so will be easier to establish common ground with individuals based on known personal interests.

Narrow AI technology has huge potential in other areas. In shipping and logis-tics it will be able to provide up to the minute journey times by factoring in the most recent problems that cause delays, HR departments will have instant access to myriad information on job applicants, and security checking will be-come more comprehensive. Market researchers will be able to more accurate-ly monitor nearly every subject area, and conference and event planning will become significantly easier.

At the moment if you want to use narrow AI for a specific purpose there is little choice but to commission it, but it is becoming available in off the shelf pack-ages. Social media tracking subscriptions have been around for sometime, and it is unlikely to be long before other ready-made subscriptions to narrow AI follow.
We are also likely to see narrow AI consumer products. Apps that can be used to research babysitters, teachers, schools, and even dinner dates or the neighbours.

This inevitably leads to the question about full-blown artificial intelligence and when the technology will be able to do our thinking for us. The consensus seems to be that in about 2035 it will be possible to programme computers to do their own thinking. What advantages and possible dangers this will present have yet to be fully understood, but in the meantime we now have the ability to search and collate from massive amounts of information using a simple version of artificial intelligence. It will give us much greater understanding, save time and provide us the confidence to make more informed decisions.