Buzzword Overkill – AI is Not a Thing People, it’s a Discipline
AI, artificial intelligence, has been through several boom and bust cycles. Today the pronouncements are everywhere with AI coming soon to everything from medicine to your underwear. For those of us laboring in the dark for years, it feels good to be the most popular kid on the block. Warning! What the marketing gods grant, they can take away overnight.
I have been lucky to work with AI technology in language for the last six years. As we worked to find traction, I was exposed to a huge variety of application problems. Now focused on financial reporting and compliance, my favorite inbound call was from a fund in the UK with $11B AUM.
“We have been reading about all the wonderful things AI could do and we want to purchase some ‘AI’”.
They did not have a data repository, everything was on analyst PCs and not the cloud and they had no analytics capability. While we completed a small proof of concept, it failed to get approval because “our analysts say they already read everything anyway”. Could have seen that coming (good news is that it was part of the inspiration to start BEA).
If you’re in the field, you’ve probably run into the same request, either from a prospective customer or from your own management. Maybe your marketing department has already asked you for some AI to put into a product or, worse yet, added to the website. Now you’re supposed to figure out what sort of machine learning algorithm you can put in the product. It’s just software, right?
This feels like the '90s when the internet came online and everyone had to have an internet “strategy”. Executives that didn’t even know how to turn on a PC were jumping on the bandwagon; most thought a website was an internet strategy.
My request to AI practitioners is to keep it grounded and fight back. Don’t be co-opted into the marketing BS and don’t let management that has no experience with AI try to build an “AI” strategy from a 15 minute YouTube session. Read the technical experts that are debunking the exaggerated claims (like this piece by Yoav Goldberg) so you know the real state of the field. Talk to experts and ask questions, challenge them on the fail modes, the testing and the risks.
If you’re in management, know that this is going to change your life, your organization, your markets and your customers. The claims are real but do your homework. Implementing an “AI” strategy is not a software project or something you can buy. You need to start small, build a small team and execute some very small projects. You do not need a big budget but you do need AI technology, domain expertise, access to the data and good UX people. Before attempting this, you should already have a good analytics foundation and culture (at least in the business you’re starting with).
That said, don’t hold back. Everything you’ve read about the exponential nature of the progress and its impact is true and coming fast. The impact will be personal. If you don’t start right now, you will get runover by the freight train that is AI powered innovation.