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With AI tools, enterprises need to differentiate between hype and value

Enterprises can reap real value by implementing AI applications, but seeing that value through the fog of hype can be difficult, says one expert.

While there may be lots of potential for enterprises that implement AI tools, a lot of the hype that has emerged over the past year may be just that: hype.

"There's still a fairly wide gap between what a lot of the platforms can do and what their advertising says they can do," said Josh Sutton, head of data and artificial intelligence at the advertising consulting firm Publicis.Sapient in Boston.

There's certainly no denying the hype, and there are some good reasons for the excitement around AI tools. Advances in computation power, combined with large stores of training data, have pushed machine learning capabilities forward at a rapid rate over the last couple of years.

But there are questions about how enterprises will translate these computational leaps into operational systems that deliver business value. In Gartner's report, "Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, 2016," cognitive systems and machine learning were listed at the peak of inflated expectations. This has led some commentators to speculate that the hype is rapidly outpacing the ability of the technology to deliver.

For Sutton, the problem is in viewing AI as an overarching technology. It's really made up of lots of different domains, such as machine learning, natural language processing, chatbots and predictive analytics. Right now, companies are looking to sell software platforms that combine all of these into one product, but Sutton said software vendors that take a more focused approach and build tools that address a single domain tend to deliver better functionality.

"There's a growing understanding that the terms AI and cognitive are catch-alls for a lot of technologies," he said. "Things are evolving at such a pace where I don't think you can say who the market leader will be."

The real opportunities for using AI tools today, Sutton said, come in the areas of collecting unstructured social media data to generate insights about products and services, developing chatbots for customer service and engagement, and automating knowledge work. The first two uses are utilized today with varied levels of success, and will continue to improve as time goes by.

Automating knowledge work through AI tools will be a bit trickier, but it offers the greatest opportunity, Sutton said. It will allow companies to forge entirely new business models that aren't simply predicated on reducing labor costs, but that invent new ways of tackling business problems, much like how Uber leveraged mobile adoption to make it easier to hail a cab.

"The companies that are using AI to create different models will be the winners going forward because they're creating a competitive advantage," Sutton said. "They're cutting cost out as an added benefit, but [that's] not the reason they're doing it."

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Where do you think AI tools can deliver the most business value?
For those of us burned by AI last, the current hype factor is pretty familiar. But the failure of AI back then was mostly a gross underestimation of the computational power needed to buid all but the most trivial applications. That should be a solved problem now, but the hype/expectations are going to lead to a lot of disappointment. Ultimately ,the chances are pretty good that AI will survive it this time, but honestly, I'm dreading it. 

I hate to be a pessimist in a field I love so much, but I can't  help seeing the similarities and the feeling of déjà vu as I read all the hype, get somewhat excited, and then disappointed when I actually kick the tires on some of the stuff that is being thrown out there. It seems as if the term "cognitive API"  is becoming synonymous with "big hack, personified and glorified through cleverly worded marketing."
That means that the great disappointment is about to come and then another shakedown which will probably scare off all those who allowed themselves to believe in the marketing fantasy.  If they just presented all the cognitive API's and apps as great tools that can be used to help build an AI program and not an out-of-the-box artificially intelligent API that on its own can understand and process natural language, etc. (without the developer having to get involved), then maybe we could have avoided this inevitable disappointment. But, the hype has just taken over.

-- Eyal Yaari