Data Science and Artificial Intelligence Remain Synonymous at CES

A.I. is turning companies from product specialists into bigger service providers.

Martin Grandjean

When most people hear about artificial intelligence, they think about protocol droids, Jarvis, or SkyNet. But, in reality, A.I. is just a tool — and one we are already wielding. Understanding A.I. is a matter of understanding what that tool does and, for the moment, that tool appears to destroy traditional industry models to clear space for new services. Cars become car rides. The hospitality sector becomes rooms. The music industry becomes a steady stream of perfect chords.

Speaking to a crowd of would-be disruptors at the Consumer Electronics Show this week, the four experts whose powers combined to form “The Future of Artificial Intelligence” panel described what has happened and provided a straight-forward prophecy: more of the same.

Debi Mishra, a partner director of engineering and machine learning at Microsoft, cited an example of an aircraft parts manufacturer (the company name was not disclosed) that makes commercial jet engines. When a manufacturer sells the engine, it usually attaches a maintenance agreement to boot. However, the company recently began implementing smart sensors in the engines that collect data on the engine’s status and makes it available to intelligent programs for damage analysis. Instead of the airliner having to employ their own personnel to keep tabs on the engine and file a repair claim, the manufacturer does it itself.

In other words, the aircraft manufacturer has gone from selling a single product to selling a wider service — all because of A.I. And this turns a company from a specialist in just one thing into a power-player that can effectively meet multiple needs at once. Saying a company belongs to one single industry is going out of style.

It’s a small step, sure, but it’s allowing companies big and small to initiate bigger enterprise projects that might not otherwise have been able to. Gayle Sheppard, the general manager of Saffron Technology at Intel, says the two biggest industries to take advantage of private A.I. services — a $7 billion market right now — are health care and retail. They might seem like strange bedfellows, but in both fields, A.I. and cognitive computing are able to parse through data for patterns and make better recommendations to patients/consumers to meet their needs.

Mishra cautions that the single biggest hurdle towards allowing A.I. to really thrive in the private sector is a dearth of big data experts. “Data science is still very much in short supply,” he said. Building big A.I. platforms is only possible if you have the people to help back that up.

One solution may be making A.I. tools available over the cloud and allowing developers from around the world access to the same technologies to suit their own needs. That’s one idea behind Elon Musk’s OpenAI project, though it remains to be seen just to what extent this will help allow more people to get involved with big data.

The panel was pretty optimistic we’re already headed in that direction. “This is no longer imagining what’s possible,” said Sheppard. “We’re doing what’s possible.” And it’s consumers who are pushing the way, speaking with their wallet in favor of A.I.-backed services.

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