Think about a basic task you do during your workday. You open up your emails. Your most important emails are in the ‘Focused’ tab while the less important ones are placed in the ‘Other’ tab. You notice that one of the emails you received was an invitation, and has now appeared in your calendar so you don’t forget.
You forget the exact spelling of an email address but you type in the first two letters you remember and the name appears, all this saving you time in the long-run.
Those examples may seem minor but they’re the perfect example of how Artificial Intelligence (AI) has made our lives more efficient. It may get a bad rep at times, with the most popular depictions of it shaped by science-fiction and pessimistic predictions.
Yet AI is anything but doom and gloom. In fact, it’s an integral part of our daily working lives; and many of the tools you use now have AI powering it.
To get back to the heart of what AI is, we need to look at what it’s supposed to do, so you get the most out of it. “It should be designed with humans in mind to give the users back time and make life a little easier, or make services a little more accessible so you can make decisions faster and react quicker,” says Paul Shanahan, business group lead, Intelligent Cloud, at Microsoft.
“AI is about extending human capabilities by providing autonomous, smart machine-based processes to improve business outcomes. At Microsoft, we’ve built platforms that have made it far more accessible to democratise AI for everyone This work began more than 20 years ago, during the era of Bill Gates, and it’s paying off with more than 8,000 people working on AI within the company.”
Much of the challenge for organisations in embracing AI comes down to education. You can’t use what you don’t know and Microsoft is breaking down those barriers by helping customers focus on what the business needs.
“Microsoft’s goal is to holistically develop AI in three ways: lead innovation to extend capabilities to enable people and organisation do more and be more productive; create a powerful platform that makes AI more accessible through services and tools that combine productivity with power; and a trusted approach that puts you in control and protects your data.
“Our approach is to engage with customers and help them identify where the real business challenges are and where technology can support in resolving those issues to drive real results. Sometimes the biggest challenge for customers is helping them understand just how accessible AI actually is,” said Shanahan.
“Typically, the mere mention of AI causes them to look at each other and go find the most technically advanced person in their business and bring them into the discussion.”
For example, Microsoft has one element of AI embedded into its service called the intelligence security graph where all the experience and information it gathers across more than 200 businesses and consumer services is amalgamated. It then plugs into services like Office 365 to make them automatically more secure for users.
“To put it into context, we have about 400 billion emails analysed through Office 365 on a monthly basis for things like malware or malicious links,” Shanahan said. “This enables us to spot malware and threats well in advance because our AI can see it flowing through our systems, and we can automatically update an organisation in advance so they can be ready to take immediate action. That’s the real power of AI at work for our customers.”
From water conservation to preemptive maintenance
Applications with AI go beyond making your devices safer or reducing the stress of checking emails. For example, Microsoft works with Schneider Electric, who work with farmers in New Zealand in monitoring the amount of water being used to water crops.
Since water is a scarce commodity there, a combination of AI, sensors and deep learning is used to monitor and help irrigate the farms. If it scans the ground and sees it’s already been watered, it will move on to the next area.
Similarly, Rolls Royce uses AI to help with critical maintenance by monitoring engines, using predictive maintenance, onboard sensors and live satellite feeds to ensure its engines worldwide are in tip-top shape.
AI and Bots Transforming Customer Service
Yet the most applicable example of AI is through the use of bots. Shanahan mentions how both HP and Carphone Warehouse used them to redesign their customer interaction and customer engagement model.
“The initial interaction with customer care will be through a bot. The bot can ask the customer the initial questions to help pinpoint the problem and resolve it quickly. If that fails, the customer is connected to an agent with appropriate skills, who receives all the information given and the agent helps resolve the issue. The response rate and return time for customers increased dramatically for those companies.”
In the short term, Microsoft is bringing the conversation of AI to organisations, and use their expertise to deliver better experiences through awareness, education and knowledge transfer.
“Ultimately, we have an ambitious goal to make AI accessible and valuable to every individual and organisation. By infusing intelligence across all our products and services we are providing a powerful platform of AI services and tools to help transform businesses. We’ve been very clear in our view of what AI should be, and how it should be designed,” Shanahan said. “The heart of everything we’re doing with AI is designed to amplify human ingenuity and it’s designed to enhance creativity.”