"In the last few years, organisations have relied more and more on immersive technologies such as data visualisation, mobile devices, and wearables," Claus Jepsen, Unit4’s chief architect and head of Innovation Labs, told iTWire in an interview.
"As more devices become connected, cross-device integration is becoming part of every business," he added.
Jepsen is a technology expert who has been fascinated by the micro-computer revolution ever since he received a Tandy TRS model 1 at the age of 14. He has spent the last few decades developing and architecting software solutions, most recently at Unit4, where he is the chief architect and Head of Innovation, leading the ERP vendor's focus on enabling the post-modern enterprise.
Digital assistants, chatbots, AI, machine learning have been the most popular topics in technology this year so far. What do you think of them and what is your opinion on their adoption?
In the last few years, organisations have relied more and more on immersive technologies such as data visualisation, mobile devices, and wearables. As more devices become connected, cross-device integration is becoming part of every business. As it gets easier to connect with one another, the lines become increasingly blurred between our physical reality and the digital world. The million-dollar question is whether the enterprise will be able to effectively manage both their intelligent machines and their human talent.
As you just said, artificial intelligence (AI), chatbots and machine learning have been huge buzzwords for a while; however, they are only starting to have a real-world impact in the work environment now. According to research by Markets and Markets’, by 2020 the AI market will skyrocket to a value of US$5.05 billion as more cloud users become accustomed to dealing with bots and synchronising their lives and operations to include digital assistants.
Do you think that enterprise companies are willing to adopt these new technologies?
Definitely. We are still in the very early stages of adoption. Recently, Google and Microsoft added more powerful AI services to their cloud platforms, while Salesforce’s AI-infused analytics service gained attention from a lot of start-ups who use AI in their new apps, such as travel site Gogobot. These platforms allow those with the preliminary coding knowledge to create and deploy simple chatbots, enabling small start-ups with fewer staff, to create their own bots.
You mentioned before that one of the major challenges for bots and digital assistants is to understand the complexity of human language. How can companies overcome this problem?
Devices or programs that are multi-threaded, or able to remember multiple situations, may be the key to improving conversations with AI bots. Today, a user usually must finish a use case or interaction before starting another one. Most people do not finish an old conversation before beginning a new one, however, once a bot can engage a user in multiple conversations at the same time, in different stages, the potential is limitless.
We believe that if individuals want to communicate with bots in a more meaningful way, the bots must be "smarter" — more proactive and intuitive — essentially, learn about the individual they are communicating. The bot should know the user's preferences and behaviour, to anticipate and suggest potential needs. Without such "learning," the bot cannot really engage in meaningful two-way communication.
Machines and bots are going to replace human jobs. What is your opinion?
The idea of using technology to take over the operation of routine tasks has been attracting more and more advocates within companies. On a larger scale, employing digital bots means financial costs are lower as well as time saved on tasks usually spent on manual operations or classifying data.
In the past, it was often a case of larger software vendors working to retrofit conversational user experiences and machine learning capabilities into their existing solutions. Going forward, the new software will include those capabilities baked in, resulting in the convergence of conversational user experiences with augmented solutions designed with sophisticated self-learning capabilities.
This will result in a completely new type of software constructed with intelligence as a core function. In future, end-users will focus more on critical thinking than the mechanics of maintaining the data. With more proactive, dramatic evolvement of bots in our daily lives, companies will gain new competitive advantages.
What should we expect to see soon?
The popular consumer bots — Microsoft Cortana, Amazon Alexa, Samsung’s Bixby, Google Assistant, and Apple’s Siri — will gather more followers this year as the market is expecting an advancement in simpler technologies that are easier to use and less complex than today’s digital assistants. Instead of filling pre-defined forms, users will take advantage of AI with easy language and communication services on familiar platforms such as Slack, Yammer, Skype, Facebook and Twitter.
This will be useful in allowing employees and remote companies to work more efficiently and in more structured ways, given enterprises continue to operate through cloud-based systems. In addition, AI will make it considerably easier in regards to performing digital tasks.
For example, functions such as expense reports, time sheets and other historic data should be more streamlined, automated, and self-driving, allowing skilled workers to focus more on core competencies. Meanwhile, AI and bots should bring increased efficiency and productivity, not to mention fewer operating costs and improved service for customers across the globe.
Based on Gartner’s predictions, AI will become so important to companies that worldwide they will spend US$3.5 trillion on IT this year.
For commercial organisations, AI will bring a new source of competitive advantage; for the public sector, the ability to achieve more for less. If companies want to step up their efficiency and productivity, by liberating employees from tedious chores to invest in serving their customers, it’s time to consider how AI and digital assistants can be put to work.