Commentary: Time to Get Smart

Exploiting artificial intelligence to turbocharge business.
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 
 
Data permeate nearly every industry and corner of our lives. As businesses equip themselves with artificial intelligence (AI) to make sense of it all, experts predict the AI market will grow to $70 billion by 2020 and much of that growth will occur right here in Seattle. Here are two industries where AI has already made inroads in and another where it’s poised for significant growth.  Companies from broadcasters to online marketers have long used a form of AI called predictive analytics. By analyzing complex data sets spanning text, images, audio and video, AI helps marketers anticipate when and where to reach consumers, and what content to give them. Our company has worked with a major online media firm to build an app that offers headline suggestions that increase readership and predicts what users will click on “next.”
 
In retail, Amazon is using its digital assistant technology to minimize friction by allowing customers to purchase products without ever stopping at the cash register. IBM’s AI-powered chatbot, after asking a few brief questions, guides customers through the Mall of America with recommendations of retailers, rides and other activities personalized to budgetary and time constraints. Every time users open their AI-powered Starbucks Rewards app, they will be matched with old favorites and new recommendations, individually tailored to past spending habits. Those suggestions already follow phones wherever users take them, but as Starbucks continues to integrate the technology, they could soon be visible to baristas and displayed on drive-through screens as patrons order.
 
AI also offers media companies the ability to automate rote tasks. The Associated Press has started automating the process of converting stories from print format to broadcast, freeing its journalists to focus on reporting. In video, AI can help media companies analyze thousands of hours of content to identify and eliminate inappropriate material quickly. Microsoft has integrated into Skype real-time translation powered by AI.
As the population ages, the cost of health care has escalated. Plus, by 2020, the medical industry will accumulate 200 times more data than a human can process. The health care industry simply can’t keep pace. AI presents solutions with promise. 
 
To make the best use of AI for diagnoses, treatment decisions and other health care applications, systems need to cross-reference multiple modes of unstructured data, including patient medical history, research texts, MRI and X-ray imagery, and video. This has proven challenging for most existing, siloed applications, but as developers build tools that can exploit the rich diversity of health care data, we’re beginning to see progress. 
 
The Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence is developing an AI-augmented search engine that analyzes both natural language text and imagery to help doctors sift through medical databases far more efficiently. Moreover, AI could help detect dementia and other degenerative neurological conditions in which the brain “ages” faster than its chronological years. Using an MRI scan to determine this “brain age” can take a provider nearly 24 hours, but researchers at King’s College London believe AI machines could make that call in seconds.  
 
Offloading some physician work to expert systems can support more efficient distribution of tasks to other medical providers, such as nurse practitioners, helping build a health care ecosystem that saves money — and lives. 
 
In time, AI will influence countless facets of business — and much of the progress is already being established in Seattle. Boasting entrepreneurial spirit, talent and investment, Seattle is an excellent proving ground for building and implementing AI. From tech titans Microsoft and Amazon to the myriad disruptive startups, early adopters such as Starbucks or nonprofit research groups like the Allen Institute, Seattle-based businesses have a front-row seat to AI innovation. 
 
As AI technology continues to evolve, expect your business to evolve right along with it. Are you ready to make the leap? 
 
Rajeev Dutt is CEO of Dimensional Mechanics, which helps companies create and implement AI applications. Reach him at rajeev.dutt@dimensionalmechanics.com.
 

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