Blog Post - Naji El-Arifi, Jun 21 2018

​CogX 2018: Chatbots, Blockchain and Robothespians

​CogX 2018: Chatbots, Blockchain and Robothespians

The Festival of All Things AI

According to PWC, Artificial Intelligence (AI) could add £232bn to the UK economy by 2030. Yet despite this potential, AI remains a complex world and, in business and wider society, we’ve barely scratched the surface of what it can do.

With that in mind, this week I headed to CogX, a two-day festival of all things AI. I went with the goal to focus most of my time on the areas that hold the most significance for Salmon and its customers – AI and chatbots with a splash of blockchain.

Each stage had a theme and I spent some time in the Ethics stage to hear from Dr Steven Cave of the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence about how our negative feelings towards AI is something that is deeply integrated into our history; the premise being that we are conditioned to think that AI will kill us all in the end. This fear is due to our ancient mistrust of anything that is not organic.

You can look back through the course of history to see the evidence of that complicated relationship between man and machine. From the story of René Descartes (1596-1650), who created an automaton of his dead daughter to fictional tale The Sandman (1816), where a machine caused a man to go insane, the message is that humans are not to trust anything not made of flesh and bone.

At the ethics stage, the point was that this has led humanity to that feeling that AI will be our downfall. The irony that the ethics of a machine is defined by its maker, a human, is often forgotten.

UK’s place at the AI table

Away from philosophical discussion, another point made at the festival was around the UK’s position in AI. Matt Hancock MP and Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport talked about how the UK will be investing £1 billion in AI.

He made clear that the government knows it has to have a seat at the table in the international community when it comes to the technology, so the UK can continue to be a leader in the AI space.

With that future investment in mind, one of the first talks was dedicated to exploring the current state of AI, looking at where it excels and where it still needs work. With a panel of experts giving their opinion on where they feel AI still has room to improve.

One of my favourite quotes came from Vishal Chatrath, founder of AMachine Learning platform PROWLER.io, who was discussing why the UK is a great place for AI, and explained that “Silicon Valley fees like 90% hype and 10% substance whereas Cambridge, for example, is the exact opposite”.

The main two points from this panel were: more investment is needed, and some form of standardisation will be vital. They are two complex areas which won’t be solved overnight, but throughout the sessions I attended, those topics kept coming up in different forms so everyone in the technology industry, and touched by the tech industry, should take heed.

The rise and rise of chatbots

Another major focus of the event was chatbots. To start off, we need to accept and understand that in the very, very near future, instant messaging – and by extension chatbots – is going to be a major part of how we get information from, and communicate with, brands. In fact, it already is extremely important and is a technology being utilised by many brands currently, including Lidl’s Chatbot sommelier, while TfL has a Facebook Messenger chatbot.

A few stats for you: there are over ten thousand chatbot solution providers in the world managing 500,000 chatbots which are communicating with five billion users every day, delivering 100bn+ messages a day. Any doubters of whether the public “will embrace AI” need only look there.

What brands need to understand is that, as more and more bots enter the world, customers’ expectations will start to change. For example, they will expect a brand to provide 24/7 customer services facilitated by a bot and for enquiries, they will expect (and be stunned if not given) the ability to instantly find the answers they are looking for by messaging a brand directly.

Due to this changing expectation, brands will need to work extremely hard to ensure that these bots can communicate with all the different departments and deliver value back to the user in a seamless and effortless way. This means starting now to think about how they are going to integrate this technology and what it means to their overall strategy.

Moving the conversation along

In conclusion, CogX 2018 was a great conference which showed that both AI and chatbots present an opportunity that our clients can benefit from right away, and should have started using by now. The festival moved the conversation along. It wasn’t about future gazing. Discussion was practical and focused.

And that is our goal with our customers – AI, chatbots and all that’s in between, can be hugely beneficial to brands, especially those in retail as it is predicted to be the industry that will benefit the most from chatbots.

My final thought was around the great response to the question: “when should you use a display over voice?” I thought the answer was perfect.

“When something is hard to describe but easy to show”

The same could be said of AI technology as a whole. Its potential is almost so huge, it’s impossible to quantify or describe in great detail.

But looking around at the technology on display and listening to the experts speaking, the message was clear: be smart with what AI you use, but do invest and take advantage of all it offers because the ROI could be unprecedented.

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