Comment: Will AI be more than a marketing tool?


Richard wilson 009 x 600Artificial intelligence (AI) may be one of the most interesting developments in computing in recent years. But can we be certain its impressive capabilities will give us what we really want?

Do we want AI to be used by garages and shops to help them make a sale by targeting their products at our individual needs or susceptibilities?

It is now recognised that the application of AI is just as likely to be in marketing as in engineering.

Altruism and retail

When AI was first dreamed up and then implemented with much investment and R&D effort, I imagined that this form of computing technology could be used for systems of real value to society. Medical diagnosis and robotic surgery could benefit from AI, for example.

How naive I was. I should have realised that the capabilities of AI to shape human thoughts would be adopted in a heart-beat by the retail sector to make it easier to sell things to us.

And with electronics systems controlling much of what a car does and how it connects with the outside world, it is now possible to create large amounts of data about drivers and their driving patterns.

Big data

Data analysts are using AI to process this data and to turn it into useful and valuable information.

This could be used for safer car design, but it can also be used to help car dealers make us more likely to buy particular vehicles.

The danger is that this and similar uses in the retail sector could taint our impression of the true usefulness of AI.

This would be a mistake.

AI is already being used in medical research. For example, Fujitsu in Japan is using it to more accurately identify the tumours on CT scans by making use of historical use data. GlaxoSmithKline is using AI for drug development.

Industrial Strategy

A report on the issue, Growing the artificial intelligence industry in the UK, was recently published by the departments for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport as part of the government’s industrial strategy.

It concluded that AI’s ability to record patterns of behaviour will be used to provide personal shopping recommendations as well as to help children to learn and teachers to provide more personalised education programmes.

AI can be used to “boost productivity and make better products and services, including public services”, said the report.

It also concluded that AI could generate £630bn for the UK economy by 2035.

Such a big number makes it inevitable that a large part of AI’s market potential will be seen to be in transforming commercial business as much as changing scientific research.

So important is AI to wider commercial business that the UK’s largest business representative body, the CBI, recently called on the government to bring business and employee representatives and academics together to investigate and recommend how it can best be exploited.

Consultant editor Richard Wilson writes a regular column for Electronics Weekly



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