Wow, what a blast that was. Hot on the heels of Virtual AI Summit London, I was delighted to switch time zones and take the chair on the main Initiate Stage for the first day of the Virtual AI Summit Silicon Valley. My big takeaway? We’re reaching a defining moment for business as AI truly proves its worth and ambitious companies across all sectors start to feel the value. 

The AI renaissance: why it’s taken off and where it’s going

But don’t just take my word for it – I was fortunate enough to share the virtual arena with an amazing line-up of speakers with hard evidence of remarkable progress. We heard from AI advocates representing Ford and FedEx, eBay, Xerox and AT&T. All told stories of tangible business impact. Their experiences confirmed what I had imagined and hoped for at the start of the day: that we’re seeing AI innovation bearing fruit and delivering commercial advantage. 

Physical-digital 

For me, it was particularly rewarding to appreciate that the positive impact of AI is being felt well beyond digital companies such as eBay or Darktrace. Take FedEx – an organization that deals with the physical if ever there was one. Their VP of Advanced Technology & Innovation, Rebecca Yeung, gave an insightful account of AI being applied to solve the physical challenges of moving 16 million packages around the world every day. Interestingly, some of the real magic is happening in the ‘last 50 feet’ of the delivery journey with their new step-climbing robot. 

Another great example of this trend is the innovation that’s going on at Xerox, a name synonymous of course with the physical business of printing. Tolga Kurtoglu, Head of Global Research, spoke about putting innovation at the heart of an organization. He explained how Xerox is using AI across their current products – and increasingly moving to all-digital innovations. You can discover more about this digital/physical bridge in our new whitepaper: The future of AI is at the edge. There’s some essential reading in there about how Edge AI enables ultra-low cost, ultra-low power intelligent devices. 

Scaling up innovation

My keynote focus on ‘Scaling Up AI Innovation’ (which you can watch below) was followed by some great stories expounding on the theme. Bala Meduri, Senior Director, AI/ML Research & Platforms at eBay treated us to a masterclass on his work to build the AI platform that drives all of the organization’s AI innovations. Rebecca’s Yeung’s input put another spin on scaling up – revealing the number of factors that need to be considered. They span everything from telemetry to fleet management, as well as the user experience of interacting with a robot and the physical space to clean and recharge them. 

There’s still more to do

So where to go after all this evidence of progress in delivering business value? Encouragingly, many of the speakers were determined to focus on what comes next. Both Brianna Leddy, Director of Analysis at Darktrace and Luyuan Fang, Chief Artificial Intelligence Officer for Change Healthcare, discussed similar themes. They explored the challenges of AI decision making, the process of building trust, and of humans and AI working in tandem. I’d recommend this view from my colleague Michal Gabrielczyk on these subjects and more in his article on responsible AI

I have to say that the energy didn’t drop for one moment during the day. Ken Washington, CTO of Ford, gave a great account of his company’s vision in a changing automotive industry. I was especially taken by his analysis of the challenges of delivering L4 and L5 autonomy (more on that in our whitepaper). Bala, meanwhile, switched lanes to talk about his focus on delivering hyper-personalized retail experiences. Again, this is an area of real focus for many of my colleagues, and you catch up with an invigorating view of the future of personalization here

Despite the obvious challenges of 2020, these are indeed exciting times for business. And at the end of a stimulating day, I reflected on a satisfying sense of progress in AI over the past year – and some clear future directions. Download our whitepaper: The AI renaissance: why it has taken off and where it is going, for more on that. Meanwhile, please get in touch if you’d like to discuss these topics in more detail. 

Author
Tim Ensor
Director of Artificial Intelligence

Tim is the Director of Artificial Intelligence at Cambridge Consultants. He works with clients across many sectors to help them achieve business impact with world-changing technology innovation. Tim has had a string of commercial leadership roles focused on innovation in fields including telecoms, logistics and energy and working with world-leading AI, robotics and connectivity technology. He's an electronic engineer, Cambridge MBA and optimistic about using technology to make the world better.

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