By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)
Artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) gained a lot of attention last year and are poised to be hot topics again this year. More than just buzzwords, both have been identified as drivers of business disruption in 2017. In fact, many industry experts and researchers feel that IoT needs AI in order to successfully achieve business growth and transformation.
IoT is sometimes referred to as the driver of the fourth Industrial Revolution by industry insiders and has triggered technological changes that span a wide range of fields. In 2015 Gartner forecasted there would be 20.8 billion connected things in use worldwide by 2020, but more recent predictions put the 2020 figure at over 50 billion devices. Various other reports have predicted huge growth in a variety of industries, such as estimating healthcare IoT to be worth $117 billion by 2020 and forecasting 250 million connected vehicles on the road by the same year. IoT developments bring exciting opportunities to make our personal lives easier as well as improving efficiency, productivity and safety for many businesses.
With more connected devices comes more data – lots more data! – that has the potential to provide amazing insights for businesses but presents a new challenge for how to analyse it all. Collecting this data benefits no one unless there is a way to understand it all. This is where AI comes in. Making sense of huge amounts of data is a perfect application for pure AI. By applying the analytic capabilities of AI to data collected by IoT, companies can identify and understand patterns and make more informed decisions. This leads to a variety of benefits for both consumers and companies such as proactive intervention, intelligent automation and highly personalised experiences. It also enables us to find ways for connected devices to work better together and make these systems easier to use. This, in turn, leads to even higher adoption rates.
As more and more connected devices become key fixtures in homes and workplaces, there is another application of AI that will be important for IoT: enabling us to have conversations with these devices. This is where natural language processing (NLP), a branch of AI, come into play. In a nutshell, the goal of NLP is to enable humans to ‘converse’ with computers in both written and spoken contexts using natural human languages instead of computer languages. (You can see NLP in action by asking virtual agent Lisa ‘Can I take my cat?’ on the National Rail Enquiries website.) More connected devices mean higher demand for user support, and these conversational systems can enable users to get instant, 24/7 help and information with their connected devices. Natural language virtual agents and chatbots backed by the right technology lend themselves perfectly to the connected world of IoT because of their unlimited possibilities for integration. This means, for example, the virtual assistants in your home and car can be connected not only to each other but also to your virtual banking assistant so, regardless of whether you’re making dinner or driving to work, you can easily ask about the status of your latest direct deposit.
While it’s easy to see the powerful impact a combination of AI and IoT can produce, businesses do need to be careful about how they are applying AI to connected devices. Pure AI is perfect for analysing data and making sense of the vast amounts of information collected by IoT, but not for providing support and service for users. Those conversational systems should not only be NLP-based, but also employ a hybrid approach of self-learning and human curation of content. This means they consistently ‘learn’ and adapt based on user interactions while also giving businesses control over the reliability of responses – a necessity when applying AI to virtual assistants designed for consumer self-service.
With predictions for IoT to come of age in 2017 and usher in the start of an ‘everything connected’ world, and AI to continue to transform the way businesses are run and streamline B2C interactions, organisations need to look at these areas both individually and as a powerful combined force behind business disruption. There’s huge potential for business growth and making consumer lives easier for those able to bring together connected devices and AI in the right way.