AI: from science fiction to fact

OPINION / 10th July 2018

Artificial intelligence has moved out of the realms of science fiction and is now permeating our everyday lives.

Just as electricity, or steam power before that, AI is now working away unnoticed behind the scenes and is gradually becoming fundamental to almost all aspects of our economic and social activity. According to The Lords Artificial Intelligence Committee’s latest report, AI is likely to grow to become a pervasive technology which will underpin our daily existence.

Here we take a look at just some of the ways AI is being unwittingly assimilated into our lives.

Artificial ‘human’ voices

US-based start-up, Lyrebird.ai has cloned the voices of former US President Barack Obama and current President Donald Trump demonstrating its pioneering use of voice cloning. The AI tech company is now creating realistic artificial voices that are integrated into avatars or used in apps, chatbots or digital assistants. The AI voices are also being used to narrate books and provide the sound for characters in video games.

Business efficiencies

Amazon has long been a pioneer in the field of AI. Not only does it use it for powering its product recommendations, it uses AI widely for tasks such as guiding robots in its warehouses and optimising packing and delivery, as well as detecting counterfeit goods and powering its speaker, Alexa.

Cybersecurity

Companies in every industry are all using AI to monitor cyber-security threats and other risks, such as from disgruntled employees.

Chatbots

A number of companies are using AI-powered chatbots, which can handle routine interactions with customers and recently NatWest began experimenting with ‘Cora’, an in-branch AI personality, which can help with basic customer queries.

Detecting defective devices

Vodafone, a mobile operator, is using AI to predict problems with its network and with users’ devices before they arise.

Email

Many email services in use today, including Google’s Inbox and Microsoft Outlook, use AI to categorise emails by type and priority.

Entertainment

Online film and TV streaming services, such as Netflix and BBC iPlayer, are using machine learning algorithms to suggest what to watch based on previous viewing preferences and a range of other factors such as demographics.

Fraud detection

Companies like MasterCard and Visa have been using machine learning algorithms to detect fraudulent patterns of spending in debit and credit cards, and automatically freeze cards in response to unusual activity.

Job applications

Johnson & Johnson, the consumer-goods firm, and Accenture, the global management consultancy, both use AI companies like Hire Vue to sort through job applications and pick the best candidates.  

Legal advice

A range of ‘lawtech’ businesses has begun offering software which examines legal documents for relevant information and can assist with the preparation of legal contracts.

One robo-lawyer called DoNotPay has been particularly successful here in the UK, as it has helped to overturn tens of thousands of parking tickets. The man behind the tech is on a mission to help people avoid paying legal fees altogether.

Lie detectors

Ping An, a Chinese insurance company, is using AI to detect dishonest customers. The company lets customers apply for loans through its app. Prospective borrowers answer questions about their income and plans for repayment by video, which monitors around 50 tiny facial expressions to determine whether they are telling the truth. The program, enabled by artificial intelligence, helps pinpoint customers who require further scrutiny.

Maps

Most digital map services in use today use machine learning to predict traffic flow speeds and provide the user with an estimated time of arrival.

Predicting consumer spending

AI helps Caesars, a casino and hotel group in Las Vegas, guess its customers’ likely spending. They then offer each customer personalised promotions to draw them in and keep them spending.

Speech recognition

Computers have been able to read text and numbers for decades, but have only recently learned to see, hear and speak. AI underlies voice assistants on phones and home speakers, and allows algorithms to listen to calls and take in the speaker’s tone and understand what they say.

Stocking shelves

Leroy Merlin, a French home-improvement retailer, uses algorithms to take in past sales data and other information that could affect sales, such as weather forecasts, in order to stock shelves more effectively. AI has helped it reduce its inventory by 8% even as sales have risen by 2%, according to a report in The Economist.

Supply & demand solutions

A number of UK supermarket chains are now using machine learning algorithms to better predict customer demand for particular products, cutting down on unnecessary waste and missed sales.

Writing news

Bloomberg, a media and financial-information firm, uses AI to scan companies’ earnings releases and automatically generate news articles. The Associated Press also uses software to generate news stories on corporate earnings reports; and many news organisations are using AI to auto-generate some sporting results.

Amy Creeden Amy Creeden Marketing Manager Amy Creeden