Artificial intelligence in business
Artificial intelligence is spreading beyond the technology sector, with big consequences for companies, workers and consumers, says Alexandra Suich Bass
LIE DETECTORS ARE not widely used in business, but Ping An, a Chinese insurance company, thinks it can spot dishonesty. The company lets customers apply for loans through its app. Prospective borrowers answer questions about their income and plans for repayment by video, which monitors around 50 tiny facial expressions to determine whether they are telling the truth. The program, enabled by artificial intelligence (AI), helps pinpoint customers who require further scrutiny.
AI will change more than borrowers’ bank balances. Johnson & Johnson, a consumer-goods firm, and Accenture, a consultancy, use AI to sort through job applications and pick the best candidates. AI helps Caesars, a casino and hotel group, guess customers’ likely spending and offer personalised promotions to draw them in.
Bloomberg, a media and financial-information firm, uses AI to scan companies’ earnings releases and automatically generate news articles. Vodafone, a mobile operator, can predict problems with its network and with users’ devices before they arise. Companies in every industry use AI to monitor cyber-security threats and other risks, such as disgruntled employees.
Instead of relying on gut instinct and rough estimates, cleverer and speedier AI-powered predictions promise to make businesses much more efficient. At Leroy Merlin, a French home-improvement retailer, managers used to order new stock on Fridays, but defaulted to the same items as the week before so they could start their weekend sooner.
The firm now uses algorithms to take in past sales data and other information that could affect sales, such as weather forecasts, in order to stock shelves more effectively. That has helped it reduce its inventory by 8% even as sales have risen by 2%, says Manuel Davy of Vekia, the AI startup that engineered the program.
相比依赖直觉和粗略的估算，更聪明也更快速的AI预测将帮助企业大幅提高效率。法国家居装饰零售商乐华梅兰（Leroy Merlin）的管理层以前每周五下新订单，默认的设置是重复前一周的订单，这样大家可以早点下班过周末。现在，公司用算法来斟酌历史销售数据和天气预报等其他可能影响销售的信息，以更有效地安排库存。据创建该算法的AI创业公司Vekia的曼纽尔·戴维（Manuel Davy）说，这帮助该公司将库存减少了8％，同时销售额却增长了2％。
AI and machine learning (terms that are often used interchangeably) involve computers crunching vast quantities of data to find patterns and make predictions without being explicitly programmed to do so. Larger quantities of data, more sophisticated algorithms and sheer computing power have given AI greater force and capability. The outcomes are often similar to what an army of statisticians with unlimited time and resources might have come up with, but they are achieved far more quickly, cheaply and efficiently.
One of AI’s main effects will be a dramatic drop in the cost of making predictions, says Ajay Agrawal of the University of Toronto and co-author of a new book, “Prediction Machines”. Just as electricity made lighting much more affordable—a given level of lighting now costs around 400 times less than it did in 1800—so AI will make forecasting more affordable, reliable and widely available.
AI的主要成果之一将是令做预测的成本大幅下降，新书《预测机器》（Prediction Machines）的合著者、多伦多大学的阿杰伊·阿格拉沃尔（Ajay Agrawal）表示。就像电力让照明变得便宜了许多——如今的照明成本比1800年时低400倍左右——AI会让做预测更便宜、更可靠、更普及。
Computers have been able to read text and numbers for decades, but have only recently learned to see, hear and speak. AI is an omnibus term for a “salad bowl” of different segments and disciplines, says Fei-Fei Li, director of Stanford’s AI Lab and an executive at Google’s cloud-computing unit. Subsections of AI include robotics, which is changing factories and assembly lines, and computer vision, used in applications from identifying something or someone in a photo to self-driving-car technology.
Computer vision is AI’s “killer app”, says Ms Li, because it can be used in so many settings, but AI has also become more adept at recognising speech. It underlies voice assistants on phones and home speakers and allows algorithms to listen to calls and take in the speaker’s tone and content.