Category Archives: Artificial Intelligence

Will Sales Survive AI Threat?

Artificial Intelligence is top of mind for influencers and those with a stake in reshaping the world and defining the future –not for the rudderless and the clueless who it may displace.

The world is coming out of its ivory tower and beginning to acknowledge that Artificial Intelligence will impact even white-collar jobs, not stopping at automating mundane tasks such as dish washing, tray return or floor cleaning.

Importantly, machines that could understand human emotions are in advanced stages of development with researchers in China contributing in a big way to the robotic revolution.

Welcome to my World

It’s a no-brainer that automation lowers costs while enhancing operational efficiencies. At risk are those excelling in dotting the I’s and crossing the t’s despite the meticulous attention they pay to detail. If strategic thinking and proficiency in value selling are anathema to you, with a steadfast faith in tactical extraneous elements, then you can count yourself also among the vanishing breed.

For Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, efficiency does not lie in just automating the old way of doing things. Relaying this message in an interview to Australian Broadcasting Corporation yesterday, he was clear that technology can make a big difference

Three Game-Changing Areas

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates asserts AI will be one of three areas he will consider honing his skills on if he were to start life afresh today and get his learning momentum going. The other two areas he will have been drawn to are energy and biosciences. That’s saying it with conviction and clairvoyance while hitting the bulls-eye, capturing the essence of the future.

Did Energy figure in his list of priorities because of the Smart Grid evolution that unfolded more than a decade ago and the accompanying IoT innovations? Hardly! Rather it is because “making it clean, affordable and reliable will be essential for fighting poverty and climate change.” That is fully aligned with his personality, focused as he is on philanthropy, poverty alleviation and making a positive impact on society.

Brain AI

Super-Intelligent Robots

The humanist he is, Mr Gates has also advocated taxing robots who replace real people. I do not, however, see any divergence in his thought stream. Learning is not to be confused with articulation of an opinion based on principles and impact of a development on society.

Always forthright, he had once even said that the world must fear the robot uprising, a sentiment also articulated by the likes of physicist Stephen Hawking, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Tesla /SpaceX founder Elon Musk.

In the words of Mr Gates, “First, the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don’t understand why some people are not concerned.’

B2B, H2H, E-Commerce and a Human Touch

Super-intelligent robots are certain to leave real people scrambling for jobs while bracing up for what could lead to a disaster for humanity, per Prof. Hawking’s warning.

The grim prognostications aside, one group of employees an AI sweep may leave untouched will be those in customer-facing B2B sales roles, unless prospects and customers are ready to talk to robots! Even here, Forrester has a dismal prediction – that one million B2B sales jobs will disappear by 2020.

The Costs Involved in Field-Based Selling

That’s a gloomy portrait, with other reports holding the Forrester figure as a drop in the ocean. This is not removed from reality, with cost-cutting being the mantra dear to businesses for profitability.

There can be no denying that field-based sales and presales personnel involve hefty expenditure for companies – with the biggest damage coming from failed prospecting. The cost of winning deals will raise no eyebrows. It is only when deals are lost the costs get noticed.

On the positive side, though, the significance of Human-to-Human (H2H) interactions will continue to sustain sales manager jobs in businesses delivering large infrastructural solutions.

That can be a possibility if sales personnel embrace a consultative culture, inspiring confidence and trust among prospects by demonstrating thought leadership and presenting them with a vision for their future in a true spirit of collaboration.

VA

Armchair Soothsayer, Research Analysts and Chatbots

Whether the same can be said of smaller solution providers who may shift their focus to online sales amid the continuing surge in e-commerce is a moot point.

Without being an armchair soothsayer, I may have to rely on data from market research analysts. The only hitch is that research indicates the latter themselves are at risk of falling prey to AI, no thanks to chatbots for sales and marketing that deliver swift information by connecting to a wide range of tools for analysis.

Some tapering can be expected to happen, thanks to the power of human innovation through R&D resulting in AI sophistication.

Last year Mastercard ® launched a pilot for tapping the potential inherent in AI-based virtual sales assistant technology for advice on putting together and closing deals.

That may well become the norm soon!

G Joslin Vethakumar

 

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Assistants

AI Invasion is no Y2K Bug Fizz

Real Danger Looming on the Horizon

As a chess player, I can say without any hesitation that the ability to think, say, eight moves ahead is critical for evolving and executing a win strategy.

Likewise, in business and governance, a fool-proof path to success lies in anticipating challenges and putting counter-measures to keep them at bay.

Occasionally, such planning manifests itself in fear mongering verging on blowing things out of proportion. The panic over the Y2K bug created by the U.S. before the millennium year kicked in is a case in point. It generated a lot of buzz, turning out to be mere fizz in the end.

A positive way to look at it is to assume the planning helped avert any calendar data-related crisis. The beneficiaries were coders in mainly India who picked up some quick Cobol skills and moved to the U.S. to help overcome any mess that was not to be.

Similar fear pangs are being unleashed over robots and Artificial Intelligence. However, that cannot be dismissed in the same vein as the Y2K bug. It is already becoming real with robots being replaced in a big way even in China where businesses had flocked to for cheap labour to support their manufacturing.

A report in today’s edition of The Straits Times points out that at a Ford car assembly plant “at least 650 robots, resembling huge, white- necked vultures, bob and weave to assemble the steel structures of utility vehicles and mid-size sedans.”

Amazon is a big user of robots at its warehouses, one of the reasons for attractive pricing.

Higher-skilled jobs are also on the block, with Oxford University researchers having estimated that “47% of U.S. jobs could be automated within the next two decades.” Doctors are among the top five occupations that come under the robotic threat. Programmers and journalists too! Effectively, both white-collar and blue-collar jobs are at risk from the robot and AI evolution.

G Joslin Vethakumar

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AI and Man-Machine Collaboration

…Buffett’s Proclamation on Watson Replacing Human Labour Shocking?

It is difficult to believe that one of the world’s biggest philanthropists, Warren Buffet, has spoken in favour of machines replacing humans. “Machines don’t come round annually and ask for higher wages”, Mr Buffett is quoted by CNBC as saying when discussing IBM’s Artificial Intelligence offering, Watson.

“I would think the biggest value will come in when it (IBM Watson) actually replaces human labour, and machines don’t come round annually and ask for higher wages, and they don’t need health care, and maybe a little maintenance,” said Buffett.

Let me go beyond Mr Buffet’s a utopian take on the AI phenomenon.

IBM Watson reminds me of an earlier IBM innovation, Deep Blue, the supercomputer that drew first blood in a six-game, man vs machine match two decades ago against the then reigning world chess champion, Kasparov. It was short-lived joy for IBM as Kasparov struck back with vengeance, winning three of the next five games and drawing the other two.

Deep Blue, which is now in a museum, came with mighty hardware and chip power and a C-based playing programme. Full software programmes then hit the scene and became handy tools for players. They were designed to stimulate the human mind, not replace it.

With just processing power and without a human touch, can AI enable service excellence? It can augment human capacities, as this report rightly points out. If Artificial Intelligence is just automation it will spell serious trouble for humankind. But together they translate to a potent force, the power of a man-machine collaboration!

G Joslin Vethakumar

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Asia Brimming with People, Staring at Losing Jobs to Machines

Singapore Must Look at Trimming Population, Economy is Not Everything!

While the world has seen volleys after volleys the last few years on how machines will take away jobs from humans I am not certain the warning signals have been heeded to by establishments in Asia – a region that has the distinction of being the biggest contributor to the global population mess.

Stealing technologies and aping the developed West in everything except population control, Asia and the Islamic world have differentiated themselves from the visionaries in one area of life – that of the procreation variety.

For the logical mind, the alarming mass of human resources in Asia amid an emerging Artificial Intelligence (AI)-centric employment landscape is a matter of serious concern. 

Region of Opportunity?

Businesses, however, see Asia as a region of opportunity as they have more than four billion people to sell their ware to.

The affluent West is reaching a saturation point in terms of business potential, with the population paling to insignificance when weighed against Asia which is bursting at its seams.

Nonetheless, Asia, which should be the most worried, appears least perturbed primarily because it views the population boom as a boon as multinational companies will focus more on the region. That could keep the region’s economy buzzing even as an acceleration in people losing jobs is on the horizon.

Overpopulation

Unemployment Creeping up in Singapore

This is precisely what Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was talking about in his May Day address, as reported in the local media. His message was simple: “Singapore’s economy is picking up and may do better than it did last year. However, unemployment is also creeping up

The implication, even a direct inference, is that the Government exchequer can be expected to expand while its constituents take a hit.

Economy in Transition? Or a Maturing Economy?

Mr Lee’s reference to an economy in transition is appropriate as the world is bracing up for major workforce disruptions, enabled by AI-based technological advancements even as billions of smart devices are bursting on the scene in an era of the Internet of Things. An era where people face the threat of having to jostle with the likes of robots and drones for jobs!

Where clarity evaporates is when Mr Lee says “As the economy matures, I expect that to creep up.”

in my opinion, Singapore is a part of the developed world and, therefore, already a mature economy. I don’t see any reason why maturity in the economy is not in place. So, actions are needed to change the course of the economy, with priority on jobs for locals and not on affluence of the establishment.

It may be a matter of fact that other developed countries have unemployment rates of 5 per cent or higher but that is not going to be of any comfort to those losing jobs. Particularly if job losses are due to easy access to foreign personnel.

Asia accounts for 60% of the world’s population, which is set to hit eight billion soon. China and Asia alone account for about 40% of the global population. China recently even abandoned its one-child policy as the idea of more people translates to more opportunities for businesses.

Singapore Must Trim Population

I do realise foreigners in Singapore are finding it hard to get permanent residence. If they are lending value to the economy I will welcome the granting of PR to them. But I see too much mediocrity from across the shores. As I had pointed out in my earlier posts, even foreign diploma holders are landing jobs here when locals with degrees find it a struggle.

Singapore must look at ways to trim the population early without doing all it can to boost it and make living in the country difficult for residents. If a country is made up of 40% foreigners that is a sorry state of affairs when even in countries that are hundreds of times bigger it stands at just around 20% – for instance, in the U.S.

There have been reports about Singapore continuing with its tradition of land reclamation to accommodate more people. That amid the threat of global warming, melting glaciers and rising sea levels gobbling up land!

SkillsFuture

SkillsFuture and “Adapt and Grow” Initiatives

Initiatives such as SkillsFuture and “Adapt and Grow” are laudable, given that upskilling and lifelong learning are essential amid the fluidity all around. Still, they appear to me as mere exercises in escapism.

Business that fail to tap outsourcing or technologies or show an unwillingness to train locals to overcome any gaps in skills can be allowed to scoot. They will be disadvantaged more than Singaporeans as at least they will get back the high quality of life, beyond lucre, they were used to.

If protectionism, in terms of trade and jobs, is in the interest of the industrialised West, it is their prerogative and the rest of the world seeking alms from them only amounts to looking for the easy way out, demonstrating a sign of weakness.

The answer lies in Singapore looking at the interest of its people first, even if that meant turning protectionist.

G Joslin Vethakumar

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, Robots Stealing Jobs, Singapore, Singapore job scene

Robots set to Throw Human Writers OOB

Out of Business, that is!

A bad cold kept me away from blogging the last few days. I was working from home while also watching TV to stay connected.

There were some developments that made me want to write but I managed to keep that itch at bay as I knew scratching it is not going to change the world. So a welcome transient pause!

Robot writerGhost-Writing: But it did occur to me that having a robot to do some ghost-writing for me will have been wonderful. Even as Artificial Intelligence is dipping into every conceivable sector to deliver every human task with equal (or better) felicity, I had generally been living in an Ivory Tower imagining no robot can ever imitate what a writer in flesh and blood can do.

The fact that the Associated Press (AP) has already been using robotic software to auto-generate some news reports quickly kicked me out of the illusion I was cosily trapping myself in.

AP-StylebookNatural Language Processing in CCs: With advanced natural language generation (Advanced NLG) software businesses can automatically transform their data into narratives without using a human writer. The software that AP uses fully follows its style guide in writing reports.

Natural language processing technology, incidentally, is also used by the contact centre industry to analyse incoming interactions (Email, SMS, etc.) that can help anticipate customer needs. Products fuse context, natural language processing and business rules to determine the next best conversation or opportunity for a particular customer.

It finds application in content / knowledge management offerings (Genesys Knowledge Center, for instance) as well.

Imperfect Grammar Checks: With Word processors already helping writers with grammar checks, though imperfectly, I am surprised how the AI threat was a surprise for me!

Human ghost-writers have for long been outsourcing their services to whoever wants them, with the promise of following the latter’s style and ideas. That was hardly a threat as the writer was still protected – and even the ghost was human!

Automated writing, though, sounds ominous for a professional writer.

Brightly-coloured-Quill-pen-746x300When robots are capable of carrying out surgeries with finesse, writing must be a piece of cake for them.

Big Data Era: With Big Data overflowing from everywhere in this age of information analytics is playing a key role helping businesses make sense of the usage and monetise it.

Add to that tools to process, structure the data, and build a narrative around it and what you get is a cogent piece ready for vetting by a human reviewer.

I am not going to be bothered by reports that suggest by 2025 around 90% of all the news reports that the public get to read will be generated by automated tools! It goes beyond mere faith in my craft!

I am, however, happy that I quit journalism two decades ago and that blogging is just a pastime for me!

G Joslin Vethakumar

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Robots set to Leave Human Beings Unemployed

But PM Lee wants Singaporeans to have more Children! That’s scary! More People, No Jobs?

This morning’s newspapers in Singapore saw Prime Minister talking about population, warning of undesirable consequences if the fertility rate among citizens did not go up.

In contrast, The Straits Times featured another report, warning about even more dire consequences – that of robots taking the world over sooner than feared.

One of the century’s greatest physicists, Stephen Hawking, had recently only warned that robots will dominate the world in another 100 years.

The report in The Straits Times was not so kind – it quotes Softbank founder Masayoshi Son as saying that automatons may outnumber humans in 30 years.

Robots are 80% Cheaper: Its author, Andy Mukherjee, goes on to state that: “robots are 80 per cent cheaper now than in 1990, and getting lighter and safer for people to use. That makes them a big risk to many of the world’s six billion future workers.”

These are not isolated, far-fetched opinions. Scientists everywhere are concerned that artificial intelligence is becoming a huge threat for humanity.

Here PM Lee wants Singaporeans to beget more children and boost the country’s population.  What for? Have more people in the already overpopulated country where most of them will just sit idle and watch robots do their jobs?

That is a scary scenario. It is time for Singapore to get real and ensure jobs for all locals, young and old, without doing something that could precipitate the crisis.

G Joslin Vethakumar

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