Artificial intelligence started life as a story-telling device used by Mary Shelley in her novel, Frankenstein. I’m sure we all remember how this went down with the village locals! To a certain extent, real life artificial intelligence has received a similar push back from the world community as people struggle to trust a mathematical equation to make decisions that will impact their lives. In the real-world artificial intelligence refers to the algorithms that have been developed by mathematical processes to allow a computer to analyse a situation and recommend the best course of action for the user to take. A simple example of this being a satellite navigation system advising a user on the best route of travel having considered length of trip, speed limitations on roads, traffic reports and road works schedules. So now that we have computers making decisions for us, how will this impact the world of business? There are already many uses of artificial intelligence within the business systems and have been for the last ten years with various Electronic Point of Sale systems (EPOS) used by supermarkets in their stock ordering processes.
A brief history
Artificial Intelligence as we know it today is the theory that a computer given a set of rules, or algorithms, can make decisions based on the information that is inputted. This idea first came from Mathematician Alan Turing during the second war as he worked with the British forces to decipher Nazi codes. Following the war Turing devoted his work to developing Theoretical Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence. The Turing test is a yard-stick for AI in which a human user (C) interacts with a computer (A) and another human (B) whilst both are hidden. The initial user must hold a conversation with both the computer and the other human, if C cannot distinguish which is the human from A & B then the computer passes the test and is said to have artificial intelligence. Another popular test is the Chinese Room argument which follows a similar narrative of testing a computer’s ability to answer intelligent questions with intelligent answers. The latest development within the AI world occurred the 9th November as Chinese news agency ‘Xinhua’ launched their tireless AI Anchor in their effort to deliver the latest news stories 24 hours a day 365 days a year. This has been met with much debate over the role humans play in newscasting in the future. However, Analytics India magazine point out this is not true AI as the news anchor is unable to pool news stories themselves and is instead a broadcasting service, much like dictation services.
What is Business Intelligence?
Business Intelligence is an umbrella term used for any and all uses of computer systems to collect, analyse and act upon data within a business function. An easy to interpret example is the EPOS system many large supermarkets. The function of business intelligence within a company is to provide actionable insights to aid the decision-making process. Quality decision making is the most important skill a person within a business can have.
Think about how many decisions you may make in a day;
- What to dress yourself in in the morning?
- What to have for breakfast?
- Would you like a Coffee or Tea when you get to the office?
- What are you having for lunch?
When making your choices it is likely that you take for granted the process that occurs in your mind. You are likely to visualise the outcomes of these options and foresee how your decision can impact your day. A business decision is no different, but your choices are likely to have greater consequences. It is for this reason that collating and analysing the relevant data for these outcomes is an important stage of quality decision making. Business Intelligence systems are used by organisations across a vast array of industries from sales & marketing to manufacturing to financial services. For the modern-day decision maker, it is imperative that they are making well informed decisions with access to all necessary information and scenario planning. Many cloud providers offer BI tools as part of their business services. Technologies noted by Vytas in his article on Automation & DevOps – Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services & the IBM Cloud all include Business Intelligence as a product available to the user.
Decision Support Systems
A tool of business intelligence is Decision Support Systems (DSS). These concern the management of information to be used in the decision-making process. For example, a business collects data on their financial records for a selected period. They can then use this information to make an educated prediction of likely revenue they can expect in a future period, from this they are able to set SMART targets to ensure the business is remaining successful. DSS programmes have been around since before the introduction of computers, though recently there have been incredible advancements in the intelligence of these systems to predict future trends and scenarios with companies such as Microsoft, SAP & IBM now offering genuinely intelligent services that are used for high level situation reporting and strategy planning. Companies can create long term plans based on their historical financial records and market trends and analysis carried out by these systems automatically. The 2018 Business Intelligence Market report showed the most popular provider of BI tools to be Microsoft, used by over half of those surveyed, this came as no surprise when you consider the vast array of services Microsoft include in their Azure product. The sheer scalability makes them the most cost-effective option to any business needing two or more of their services.
The latest innovation within the world of data intelligence is Machine learning, or Machine Intelligence. SAS note the definition of Machine Learning as a method of data analysis that automates analytical model building. It is a branch of artificial intelligence based on the idea that systems can learn from data, identify patterns and make decisions with minimal human intervention. This takes the role of intelligence systems within a business to the next level as they begin to incorporate AI philosophies to create systems that can make decisions based on the context of the situation and what is likely to occur in the foreseeable future. The best-known offering of Machine Learning is provided by IBM with their Watson platform. KPMG, one of ‘the big four’ are big fans of the service, claiming there has been a huge boost in productivity as a direct result of implementing Watson to their processes, streamlining their efforts to a more valuable service.