Just a few weeks ago Google unveiled its latest crop of tech and AI products, from the revamped Pixel 2 smartphone to the Google Home Mini, and Pixel Buds. But it wasn’t just the shiny new hardware that caught consumers’ attention and imagination, there was a whole host of new functionality that made the launch really quite ground-breaking. Amongst them, the ability to now have over 40 languages translated in real time. Thanks to the artificial intelligence (AI) behind this technology, it seems Google is figuratively and literally breaking down the many barriers that separate us.
But for every useful application of AI, there appears to be a less-than-helpful use for it that doesn’t unlock its the full potential.
Moving beyond the hype
AI has long been prime Hollywood fodder. It was the stuff of sci-fi imagination and not really something we could imagine carrying in our very pockets. Indeed, many consumers may not even realize that, to some degree, Cortana, Siri and Alexa are artificially intelligent.
Much of what is possible with AI today has stemmed from the sheer volume of data we now produce. From the moment we wake to when we go to bed, we produce reams of data on our movements, our social lives, our work day and everything in-between. It’s this data that is used to develop much of the AI that is in use today.
AI has become something of a buzzword in some circles. Thanks to its novelty, many companies have begun using it as more of a sales and marketing tactic than one of any use.
Bring in the chatbots
Who can forget the chatbot boom of a few months ago? At one point, every business seemed to have, or to be developing, a chatbot. But soon consumers discovered they were clunky and largely useless to many different tasks. They became the AI equivalent of that annoying tinny voice you sometimes get when you ring a call center.
Chatbots are a good example of when businesses grab hold of a new idea and just run with it, with little to no thought of whether it would do their business any good. Simply by virtue of its novelty, some businesses assume that it will work for them.
Is AI actually useful?
You could say that the same is happening with other forms of AI. In the same show that Google unveiled its new translation abilities it also unveiled a new blurring feature on the Pixel smartphone. Designed to give you Instagram-worthy photos, the feature uses machine learning (a form of AI) to identify features in the background that should be blurred. Likewise, we’re perhaps used to our phones now identifying different people in our photos, but Google has taken this one step further with the ability to now identify many different animals and objects too.
But is this really useful? Apart from a small sub-section of society who live their lives on Instagram, these new AI-powered features aren’t really going to be used or appreciated. Therein lies the problem with modern AI.
Companies are discovering more things that AI can do, in fact, it can do pretty much anything with enough development and data. However, we’re too focused on finding new ways to use AI and not actually stopping to ask ourselves if it’s actually useful.
Part of the problem lies in the fact that many businesses and consumers don’t really understand AI fully. They don’t know how we’ve got to the stage that we’re at (largely thanks to big data) and the limitations of current technology. At the same time, we’ve been caught up in living in this new sci-fi-like world that we’d previously only ever dreamed of.
Getting intelligent about AI
If we’re really going to find useful applications for AI, more people are going to have to be educated on what it can actually do. They say that many heads make light work, so imagine if everyone understood how AI actually works – imagine how many useful innovations we could invent through it?!
At the same time, we need to be able to say when a new AI product isn’t worth pursuing. Sure, it’s nice to have professional style photography on our smartphones. But when you consider that some AI is working on quantum computing and identifying cancer more accurately, the ability to take the perfect selfie seems a little… selfish?
Of course, some could argue that the current crop of virtual AI assistants and machine learning in our phones is simply a way for companies to get us used to AI being part of our everyday lives. That said, there appears to be something of an arms war between the tech companies to come up with new applications for AI in their products. Which can lead to ever more useless and gimmicky ways to use it. There is a risk that if we push AI into consumers’ face too much, they may very well turn off of it – much like what’s happened with chatbots.
If used correctly, AI has huge potential to change the way we all live our lives. However, it shouldn’t be limited to just a few different functions. An AI works best when exposed to many different sources of data, and it really reaches its potential when allowed to learn to do different things. That may not be possible with our current technology, but AI is developing quickly and soon we will see it crop up in a whole host of new products and services. However, in order for us to turn to AI and not turn off of it, businesses will need to ensure that it actually adds value to the product or service and isn’t simply bolted on as a way to increase sales.