There has been a lot of talk about how machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) will impact the world in the future.

While most of the feedback regarding this change has been positive, there has been a lot of worry in some quarters regarding job losses and the invasive nature of technology.

The fact of the matter is that this change is going to happen regardless; we can either get with the programme or resist it (to our detriment).

What is key though is that the brightest minds, and most influential leaders, within the technology space need to work closely to define the relationship that humans and machines will have in the future. Ground rules need to be set and a foundation of best practice principles need to be established.

Work in this space has already begun.

Shaping the century.

The Enterprise Innovation article points out that the 21st century will be the first in history shaped from beginning to end by computer technology.

Most of us now experience a world built on human-machine interaction (HMI), one that is evolving rapidly, where machines are increasingly serving as active subjects instead of passive objects.

How has humankind’s relationship with computers evolved, and where is this heading?

When things got personal.

The article adds that the personal computer, for example, the Apple Macintosh (1984), was more than just a computer made for individual use.  It was the start of a relationship between humans and computers.  It marked the start of computers as “man’s best friend.”  And like all good friends, computers (or rather their designers) sought to understand and “be present to” the needs of their users.

For this reason, HMI isn’t only about computing and the development of hardware and software but involves drawing on supporting knowledge from both the machine and human. This is where AI comes in.

The article points out that AI’s role is to create technologies that allow computers and machines to function in an intelligent manner through a range of problem-solving techniques, such as voice recognition, natural language processing, semantic understanding, machine learning, cognitive and logical reasoning.

Artificial is the new natural?

The early iterations of AI were rather clumsy and stilted in their response to human interaction.  Take the US-originated ELIZA (1966) and PARRY (1972) chatbots for example, which – although significant achievements at the time – were far from approaching the kind of naturalness we are seeing in the bots of today.

The Enterprise Innovation article points out that Chinese companies have developed highly intelligent bots for business use which have advanced to provide personalized consulting service for customers and a direct sales services 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Not only can they answer questions and provide information on the latest events and products, but also compliment sales consultants to provide a comprehensive service.

The article adds that, meanwhile, in the West, we have the examples of Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana for personal use.

What exactly does it mean to converse with a computer?  Beyond the functional uses – fielding requests, facilitating interaction, offering advice, answering inquiries, projecting forecasts – it means the ability to “walk with” computer technology through the various areas of our personal and professional lives.  It means that the discernible difference between the experience of interacting with a human and that of interacting with a computer is more or less gone.  It means we have entered an era where we are able to collaborate with computers in much the same way as we collaborate with each other.

Humans and computers as partners.

The article points out that for all the ground-breaking research and development we have uncovered over the years at Xiao-i, what we are seeing time and time again is that machines and algorithms do not have to – and in fact should not – replace humans. Instead, they can work together with people to find the best of all possible outcomes.

Take, for example, the finding from MIT researcher Julia Shah, “that teams made of humans and robots collaborating efficiently can be more productive than teams made of either humans or robots alone…this cooperative process reduced human idle time by 85%.”

The article adds that people have realized that computers have comparative advantages, unique strengths that can be leveraged in a team setting, particularly for computer technology has the ability to automate routine, time-consuming and labor-intensive tasks to free up capacity for higher-level thinking and doing.

Collaboration in practice.

The article points out that AI will continue to change every aspect of how businesses function and critical to all AI systems is human-in-the-loop computing, which as the name suggests is a form of collaboration, and a key mechanism of machine learning.

Human-in-the-loop computing is a model that requires interaction from people and the primary benefit is that it allows us to change outcomes, rather than relying on an automated process.

The article adds that, when we develop AI customer service systems, for example, we feed the machines with massive amounts of raw data to teach them how to process natural language interaction. The training is more effective when humans participate in the process through data labeling and tagging, as this helps the machines adapt to the necessary language conventions. Machines are then able to understand normal and abnormal sentence sequences, recognize named entities and identify sentiments.

The collaboration works in a closed loop and helps to upgrade the AI systems.

Making sure humans and computers work well together is critical for many applications in day-to-day customer service. Thanks to the human-computer collaboration, we can expect a seamless transition from one to the other. Customer service provides a good context for seeing this.

Let’s say you call your bank to make an inquiry and your call was being handled by a chatbot. After you asked several questions, which were well answered, the chatbot was unable to understand your next request, prompting a human to step in, taking over for the remainder of your inquiry. At the end of the call the operator asks, “how was your experience with our chatbot earlier on?” and you weren’t even aware that you spoke to one.

Human-computer collaboration or human-machine collaboration (HMC) is certainly a focus for our business as it will continue to drive AI systems and upgrade AI related products.

HMI (or perhaps more appropriately, HMC) should certainly be seen as an intimate part of our future and the potential remains infinite.

Enriching the customer experience.

If we could summarise the benefits of technology in simple terms, it significantly enriches the customer experience. And as we all know, this is something that every corporation should be aspiring towards creating.

Adobe recently released a report (Digital Intelligence Briefing: 2019 Digital Trends) which pointed to the technological trends which will be influencing business in the future.

According to the Adobe report, data is the new everything. If the technology platform is the engine room that drives the customer experience and marketing activities, then the data is the oil that lubricates and powers this increasingly sophisticated machinery.

Companies that treat their data as a valuable and critical competitive asset (while taking care to respect customer privacy) can use it to help drive other commercial strategies through better customer experiences.

Significant value.

The report points out that recognizing this potential for their business, the organizations that were surveyed for this research regard data and marketing that focuses on the individual as the single most exciting opportunity in 2019.

Around a quarter of respondents to the survey make prioritizing this their number one concern ahead of optimizing the customer experience.

This is not to say that it has been easy sailing for all companies. According to the Adobe report, many businesses have experienced difficulties when trying to harness data for commercial gain. Problems can emerge when different types of customer-related data (whether from CRM, digital analytics, e-commerce or in-store data) are trapped within company silos and standalone tools which are not properly integrated. A single customer view – or even something approaching that – becomes almost impossible.

Operational challenges.

The report points out that culturally, operationally and technically, recalibrating a business around the customer is highly complex and can take much longer to achieve than expected.

However, the latest edition of the Adobe report demonstrates not just a continuation of the shift towards data led marketing, but also uptake in the urgency with which businesses are seeking to achieve this.

It would be wrong to think that data-driven marketing is the only opportunity for companies to reach their customers. There are other options available.

Further reluctance.

An article on Enterprise Innovations website referenced the Adobe report which found that delivering first-class, personalized customer experiences (CX) is top of mind for businesses in 2019, however, the implementation of marketing and CX technology continues to be fragmented.

CX is key, but implementation is slow.

The article adds that customer experience optimization is a top priority for businesses in 2019, with nearly one-fifth (19%) of respondents citing it as the most exciting opportunity this year. However, more than half (54%) of global companies categorize their CX maturity as either ‘not very advanced’ (46%) or ‘immature’ (8%).

Leading the charge.

The article points out that US organizations are most likely to regard their customer experience as ‘very advanced’ (15%), while just 9% of APAC respondents described their companies in that way.

Adobe’s research indicates that as new techniques and practices related to customer experience emerge, organizations are struggling to keep up with the rate of change.

The article adds that personalization will remain an area of focus for organizations looking to provide an advanced customer experience. According to Adobe’s report, two in five (44%) marketers said the biggest challenge they face this year is ‘difficulty getting a holistic view of customers across all interactions’.

In fact, almost one-third (31%) of marketers see a ‘lack of marketing technology integration’ as a barrier to securing an end-to-end view of audience and customer interactions.

The article adds that, as CX continues to be a key competitive differentiator, businesses are aiming to deliver data-driven, personalized marketing at scale. Among marketers (32%), ‘delivering personalized experiences in real time’ remains by far the most exciting prospect within the next three years.

Not future proof.

The article points out that Adobe’s 2019 Digital Trends report also revealed that most businesses globally are yet to implement effective, future-proof marketing and CX technologies.

The majority (64%) of organizations are either basing their marketing activities on a ‘fragmented approach with inconsistent integration between technologies’ (46%) or have ‘little or no cloud technology’ (18%). While this is an improvement on the 67% revealed in last year’s Adobe report, it still means that only a minority of businesses are reaping the benefits of an effective toolset.

The article adds that results show that less than 1 in 10 businesses globally (9%) have a ‘highly integrated, cloud-based technology stack’, despite last year’s report revealing that top-performing organizations were three times more likely than their counterparts to operate with one.

While adoption rates of integrated technology stacks remain low, there is an urgency to implement these tools. More than half (55%) of all respondents expect ‘better use of data for more effective audience segmentation and targeting’ to be among the top three marketing-related areas jumping furthest up their organization’s priority list in 2019.

The article points out that, as for artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), organizations worldwide seem evenly split between those that have already recognized ways these technologies can help their businesses and those that have yet to identify the benefits. Data revealed that 50% of respondents are ‘already using’ or are ‘planning to invest’ in AI and ML.

Positive signs.

The article points out that executives in APAC seem positive about automation, with only 24% describing themselves as ‘cautious’, compared with 34% in the US. Further to that, APAC businesses (24%) state they have experienced a positive rather than negative impact from the increased focus on consumer data protection.

The article adds that, although organizations understand the importance of data-driven marketing and technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning, there is a lag in implementation. Instead, many companies resort to using a patchwork of technologies, resulting in business fragmentation. At Adobe, we are dedicated to developing seamlessly integrated solutions that unlock data across the enterprise to deliver a platform for powerful customer experiences.

“Aristotle once said: We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. Enhancing the customer experience is a key ingredient to your company’s success, and technology is a major tool that can enable this. Companies can, therefore, embrace it or resist it. The dangers of resistance are that you fall behind the curve. if you are not enhancing your toolset with technology, your competitors will be. Can you afford to stagnate while your competitors grow?” – Bradley Geldenhuys, Co-Founder and CEO of GTconsult.