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Artificial intelligence needs human design

Artificial intelligence (AI) technologies continue to progress, with vendors increasingly embedding machine learning capabilities into enterprise applications and consumers coming to expect a level of personalized, yet automated, interaction that only AI can deliver at scale. Discussions around the potential hazards of AI to brand reputations, personal data protection, constitutional freedoms and society at large have become commonplace, but this has not slowed the pace of technological advancement. While AI technology vendors continue to lead and engage in these discussions (especially when their own reputations and research investments are at risk), ultimately, organizations that incorporate AI tools into business decisions and automated processes will be responsible for the impacts of those technologies.

If the 2018 O’Reilly Artificial Intelligence Conference made anything clear, it was that as AI adoption grows, so does the technology’s complexity, particularly at the intersection points between humans and machines and between regulatory policy and technological innovation. This should sustain professional services opportunities for vendors that can stay on top of AI technology developments while maintaining a broader perspective on the impact of AI on clients’ business processes and HR strategies. Still, many questions remain unanswered, including how to manage security and governance over the massive autonomous systems that will be coming online in the next several years; whether the approach taken by the European Union with its General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will become the global standard; and what the long-term impact on human intelligence and skills will be as machines take over more tasks. It is unlikely these issues will be resolved by the 2019, or even 2020, O’Reilly Artificial Intelligence Conference, but vendors can start to address some of these questions with clients through consulting and solution design engagements tied to broader digital transformation initiatives.

Event overview

TBR attended business and technology learning content company O’Reilly Media’s third O’Reilly Artificial Intelligence Conference, an event centered on a variety of AI topics, including enterprise use cases, implementation, business and societal impacts, product design, and machine learning methodologies, over two days in New York. The conference’s theme, “Putting AI to Work,” mirrored that of last year, but sessions and discussions reflected growing maturity in how enterprises and researchers approach, develop and apply AI technologies. Keynote speakers represented AI technology vendors such as Intel AI (the conference’s co-presenter, as announced last year), Google, IBM Watson, Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), Amazon Web Services, SAS, Digitate and Uber, as well as research institutions such as MIT, Princeton and Carnegie Mellon. In addition to tactical sessions around specific AI use cases designed for data scientists and software engineers that were abundant last year, new in 2018 was the AI Business Summit track tailored for executives, business leaders and strategists (and for TBR’s lead analyst covering professional services related to AI, analytics and digital transformation). TBR also interacted one-on-one with founders, product leads and marketing executives from AI-related startups such as Alegion, Kinetica, Clusterone and Dataiku throughout the conference.