AI – the Invisible Helper

Technology has forced humans to learn several new and “unnatural” skills. In the last 50 years alone we have had to learn to input information by typing on a keyboard (instead of speaking, or hand-writing),to read and use information on a screen (instead of paper), to use a mouse for navigation and actions (instead of gestures), and to using touch screens for interacting with computing and communication devices. In order to navigate through information we learned scrolling, clicking, panning, and zooming with multiple windows and apps. In hindsight, it is easy to dismiss these skills as trivial. In reality, we needed to practice, to learn, to master and incorporate them into our daily lives. They come easy to some us, but not for all. The good news is that AI will not require us to learn new skills —?instead, AI will allow us to revert to using some of our natural and fundamental human skills and make interactions easier and intuitive. AI is becoming the invisible helper in our lives.

As the invisible helper, understanding natural human speech is extremely helpful. AI has almost perfected the understanding of speech, recognizing not just what we speak but also the correct context. Any of us can experience using this today via Apple Siri, Amazon Alexa, or Google Assistant. The performance will only improve over time and become as accurate in understanding as another human being?—?perhaps even more so as computers do not get distracted, tired, or subjective in capturing what is spoken. Other areas that are also being perfected by AI are recognizing and interpreting facial expression, gestures, images, and objects. In addition, the quality of language translation between many commonly used languages may not yet be perfect but has reached better than average human levels. The same is true for text to speech conversion. Eventually, by combining all these, we will be able to interact via speech with anyone, in any language and with any device, in the world. With speech and gesture interface, our interaction with devices will be simplified significantly —?meaning no confusing buttons, icons, and screens to navigate. Just say what you want and AI takes care of the rest, making speech the new human interface. This will also open up the market to a much larger section of society for products and services —?especially to those who feel intimidated and overwhelmed by computer technology and its interfaces.

At an even higher level, AI will be able to link many devices and services needed to cater to our complex need, making it unnecessary to understand and remember individual steps. If for example you felt like watching a Star Wars episode on a Friday night, the mere command “Show me the latest Star Wars movie” is all you would need. AI would listen and take all the necessary steps: switch on the TV and other devices —?to your preferred settings, search for which is the latest Star War movie, compare providers with the best offers (Netflix, Amazon etc.), purchase, set room lighting, start movie streaming and say, “Enjoy the movie, The Last Jedi.” Speech AI makes interacting with multiple devices and services so easy. It clearly sets course for personal AI Bots, who know you and your preferences.

AI, by itself, will not be a new product or service. It is an ingredient technology that will be integrated invisibly into products, for enhanced ease of use and to deliver higher value to users. Many products and services we know and use today are already AI enabled —?to name a few, Google Translate, Apple Siri, Amazon Recommendations. AI makes for a much more natural user experience all around; It is richer, personalized, and holistic —?and suitable to a much broader audience. Many advantages of AI in products and services may not stand out as something new. These products will just appear to be much easier to use or just better as a result of AI.

In two simple sentences, Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, summarized what most people need to understand about artificial intelligence and positioning its scope:

“Over the past decades, computers have broadly automated tasks that programmers could describe with clear rules and algorithms. Modern machine learning techniques now allow us to do the same for tasks where describing the precise rules is much harder.”

He captures very well the invisible nature and “behind the scene” role of AI and machine learning as he elaborates on how it applies to Amazon: “Much of what we do with machine learning happens beneath the surface. Machine learning drives our algorithms for demand forecasting, product search ranking, product and deals recommendations, merchandising placements, fraud detection, translations, and much more. Though less visible, much of the impact of machine learning will be of this type — quietly but meaningfully improving core operations.”

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