In May 2017, Google announced further plans to extend its artificial intelligence (AI) business. Perhaps the most significant development from Google’s I/O conference was that the errors in its voice recognition software have gone down from 8.5 percent to 4.9 percent.
The surprising part? It wasn’t a team of Google technicians which achieved this result. Instead it was AI-enabled ‘self-learning’, whereby the software was able to learn from its own mistakes.
Mark Zuckerberg, describing Facebook’s Messenger Platform, said that the goal was to enable “everybody to message a business just like you message a friend.” Just like Google’s voice recognition technology, the Messenger Platform has machine learning built in, or as Zuckerberg says, “the more you use it, the more personalised it’ll get.”
Amazon’s Alexa assistant is perhaps the best-known everyday AI device with over 10 million already in use around the world. Google, Facebook, Amazon, and most of the other tech giants around the world have already defined themselves as AI-led companies.
A recent study has shown that only 12 percent of businesses are investing in AI technology – so there could be a first-mover advantage for those who get their strategy in order now. But what does that mean for small business owners? Can they compete with the AI offerings of the tech giants or will they move in and steal their dinner?
The way forward
The truth lies somewhere in the middle. While the giants are working on AI to control developments like driverless cars and smart cities, they are also actively recruiting small businesses to use their AI platforms.
LightwaveRF is one such small company. According to its LinkedIn page, LightwaveRF has less than 50 employees so while it’s not exactly a mom-and-pop operation, it is hardly a global superpower either. LightwaveRF offers lighting control switches that you can control from your mobile device or tablet.
The company decided to use Amazon Alexa to create a ‘skill’ (basically a voice app) to allow customers to add voice control to their LightwaveRF products. To access the functionality, customers had to get an Amazon Dot (which retails for around €60) and integrate a voice element to their control. Essentially, LightwaveRF was able to get all the benefits of AI without having to spend years developing its own technology.
John Shermer, Chief Technical Officer at LightwaveRF, said that the decision was a no-brainer for his company. “We had a history of voice control requests from customers over the years and so were confident that it would be a good investment, and something that our consumers would embrace wholeheartedly,” he explained. The results were staggering for LightwaveRF – in just two months, 5,000 LightwaveRF users added Alexa to their system.
“The integration of the €60 Amazon Dot device meant that anyone, of any age, with no technical ability, could easily control lighting and heating without touching anything. It opened up our products to a wider audience,” said Shermer.
The Guardian recently said that, “AI is already redesigning how entire industries operate – from chatbots providing customer service support, automated virtual assistants, and art recommendations, to the machine learning that powers self-driving cars and platforms that can diagnose skin cancer.”
How AI can help
The tech giants can’t feasibly develop products in every single one of these categories. Instead small businesses can use the platforms developed by the giants to harness their own creativity and solutions.
AI can be used in myriad dynamic ways. For example, it can predict when a breakdown is likely to occur or can help you monitor staff performance to determine when people are most likely to call in sick. Regardless of your industry, AI has a use-case.
AI can even help small businesses in non-core activities. In the UK, Contractor Calculator has built a bot that can determine whether someone is genuinely self-employed, or technically an employee. This is an issue in the UK as businesses often fall foul of law IR35, and it can cost tens of thousands of pounds in penalties.
“We’ve built a bot which acts like a lawyer or a judge,” says Dave Chaplin, the founder and CEO of Contractor Calculator. “[Our] virtual lawyer can work through complex tax law as fast as a human can answer the requisite questions around their employment status – in around 15 minutes. “A paralegal would be doing this for €100 per hour. We provide a report for €25.”
From tech giants to paralegal chatbots, AI can be used in almost every industry to foster efficiency and productivity.
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