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Tech / Innovation

2016 — The Year Of AI

This year has been a pivotal one for artificial intelligence, which has gone from an abstract and esoteric concept understood primarily through it’s portrayal in sci-fi movies such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and the Terminator series (no wonder it’s typically regarded as malevolent) to the centre-piece of todays zeitgeist as the singularity (the point when artificial intelligence becomes indistinguishable from human) draws near.

Hyper personalisation and proactive intelligence have become expectations of software in 2016, and the big players in mobile and digital are striving for this through AI. The result is that we’re tipping into another fundamental paradigm shift akin to the explosion of mobile. Let’s take a look at some of the best of AI in 2016 and what we can expect in 2017 and beyond for industry, creativity and humanity.

What’s New

Greek mythology talks about mechanical humans, robots and artificial intelligences and it was all the way back in 1951 that the first AI capable of playing chess was shown off courtesy of the university of Manchester. We all experience hands-on with AI every time we play a videogame and you’ve probably seen some of the huge advances in AI coming out of Google and DARPA — such as the iconic “BigDog” — the giant walking dog/cow thing designed to help troops haul large loads on foot and now the more humanoid “Atlas” which you can see here:

But 2016 has been significant and the reasons are three-fold:

1) Machine learning is a thing now. We’ve tipped over from the majority of artificial intelligences being tools of systematic task-completion designed and controlled by humans (think AI that can play chess and do nothing else) into AI typically now being self-learning, artificial brains (think IBMs Watson, which can learn anything). This is the beginning of the evolution from artificial intelligence to artificial general intelligence, or AGI.

2) We’re seeing a sea-change of willingness to hand over our data and welcome AI into the most intimate facets of our lives by baking AI into our most personal devices — our phones, vehicles and even our homes.

3) AI is becoming more accessible. Whilst the big players are aggressively driving AI development and productising that R&D through integrating with great design in mainstream products (see Google Assistant), garage start-ups are hooking into an expanding open source community of AI developers and entrepeneurs.

These three things are fundamentally and radically changing the world and will continue to do so exponentially over the next few years. Every single part of our lives is going to be affected, even those we wouldn’t typically consider to be anything to do with artificial intelligence or even computers. Here’s how.

AI and Industry

Everything will be revolutionised by AI; personal computing, media consumption, health, diet, sex, romance you name it and this also applies to entire industries.

AI and Marketing


If ad agencies want to remain the experts in marketing communications and design they’re going to have to adopt AI rapidly. We’ll see these ad agencies partnering with AI suppliers over the coming months as they try to remain relevant but as AI becomes more accessible and prevalent we’ll likely see some of the bigger, more capable agencies investing in developing their own proprietary AI technologies.

They’ll likely monetise this R&D by licensing the platforms and providing access to facets of the generated data sets to smaller studios that will be delivering some of the more traditional work such as UI design and build. Blackwood Seven are one of the first agencies to be built around an AI capability, a rather rudimentary capability admittedly, but significant nonetheless.

It’s a matter of necessity really; art directors, copywriters, visual designers, creative directors, social media experts (if that’s a thing) and usability specialists are all going to be superseded by AI within our lifetimes and the same goes for planning which will have to become a more streamlined and human practice, tasked with extrapolating human insight from the data presented to them by an AI, at least until the AI can do the human insights bit too.

And it’s not just the human factors that make this a necessity — if ad agencies don’t develop their own proprietary AI technology, their market share will plummet when the big boys in AI inevitably move into communications and design, similar to how some of the big business transformation experts such as Accenture have expanded into creative work of late. We’re already seeing the beginnings of another huge change in advertising spiralling out of mobile and led by AI beginning with how we reach and converse with consumers on their personal devices.

AI and Personal Computing


Apps and icons on the homescreens of our phones aren’t going to be a thing in the future and we can see this transition beginning now with Siri being able to transfer money and proactively plan our day for us on our lock screens and Google introducing instant apps (which allows users to use apps without installing them on their device). It’s conceivable and probable that in 5–10 years time we won’t have apps as we know them today, we’ll have a single AI personal assistant that exists with us on our phones, in our cars and in our homes that will invisibly be able to access “apps” in the cloud to perform tasks we ask it to and proactively present information to us how, where and when we need it. Think of the iPhone being renamed “Siri” and not having a screen, whilst maintaining all the same functionality.

In reality, Google are likely to beat Apple to this scenario- they’re already way ahead with instant apps as well as their deepmind AI and that’s just the beginning. Telling though, is that Apple — a company so hell bent on hardware first are increasingly talking about services as their major revenue stream of the future and coming out bullish about their work with machine learning and artificial intelligence at every opportunity.

Tim Cook’s Apple are aware of a new world order in consumer electronics about to emerge and as things stand Apple just aren’t in contention to be anywhere near the top due to their infuriatingly bad cloud services and lack-lustre AI integration — the two technologies that will dominate the next 10 years along with the internet of things.

Conversational interfaces have exploded onto the scene in the latter half of 2016… and I’m convinced we’ll see a major conversational commerce platform go live within the next 6 months that will define the future of eCommerce.

We’re seeing the practice of user interface design telegraph this shift right now. Conversational interfaces have exploded onto the scene in the latter half of 2016, catalysed by Facebook allowing chatbots into their Messenger platform whilst Google and Amazon try to stake a claim in the home via their always-listening and voice-activated-only home devices, Google Home and Amazon Echo. Both devices are perfectly poised for the imminent battle for market share in the era of AI powered home automation and I’m convinced we’ll see a major conversational commerce initiative go live within the next 6 months that will define the future of eCommerce as a bi-product of this. I suspect the pioneers will be Burberry, who I’ve previously written about in an article discussing how no UI is the new UI and why I think Burberry are going to be at the front of that shift (which you can read here) followed by Amazon bringing it mainstream via their Alexa/echo platform.

First appeared on Medium. Follow Ross Fretten on Medium here.

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