The great potential of AI for the entrepreneurial business
“AI will be woven into the fabric of enterprise, and it will be critical to understand and to use”.
That was the message of one former Sussex student, who recently returned to campus to inspire current business students towards success and to stress the importance of so-called ‘narrow’ AI technology in the future.
Simon Greenman graduated from Sussex in the late 1980’s with a BA in Computing & Artificial Intelligence and earned his MBA from Harvard Business School before going on to co-found the MapQuest.com service, one of the first internet companies which was sold to AOL for $1.1bn.
Since then, he has built 20 years of experience leading the growth, innovation and transformation of organisations such as Dex Media, HomeAdvisor Europe and Accenture through technology, data science and AI. He currently runs an advisory firm, Best Practice.ai, which works with boards and executives to help AI enable their companies.
Since the term was first coined in 1956, the traditional view of ‘general’ artificial intelligence, the type seen in science fiction, is a dangerous tool that could eventually subsume the human race with its power if developments are left unchecked.
Although much has been made of the danger that artificial intelligence poses to civilisation at large, Greenman’s message was one of engagement; ‘narrow’ AI, technologies that analyse big data, are already here and can be utilised by fledgling businesses to help them develop.
Examples of it can already be seen in the technology that surrounds us, such as Amazon Alexa, the Google Deepmind project and facial recognition by Facebook.
At the moment, this kind of AI has been most utilised in sectors like marketing and finance. However, there is great potential for its application in things like the health sector, screening results and predicting medical conditions.
“AI is an enabling technology that will become ubiquitous. It will be woven into the fabric of what we do” says Greenman.
“Narrow AI’s real potential lies in its ability to process and ‘learn’, working out the difference between input and output. It is this ability that will improve productivity and allow companies to grow.”
Greenman also sees a direct link between open source AI technologies and entrepreneurs. As open source technology is increasingly offered for free for developers to start writing machine learning programmes within minutes.
This could ultimately help entrepreneurial businesses gain access to large data sets at relatively low cost, potentially enabling them to make an impact on their chosen market with minimal outside investment.
Both the public and private sector have invested heavily in the future of AI, with a staggering £6bn in private equity investment finance raised in 2016.
Surprisingly, Greenman doesn’t see the USA as the market leader when it comes to the development of AI. Instead, China has placed themselves at the forefront of the industry, making huge inroads already with the massive sets of data they’ve been acquiring.
The recent news that over 50 leading technology companies and organisations in the UK have contributed to the development of an AI sector deal worth almost £1 billion, with and 1,000 new government funded AI PhDs, shows the level of commitment to the future of AI research and development in the UK, too.
Whatever the future of business and artificial intelligence, Greenman had some sage advice for students.
“Passion, honesty, resilience and networking….particularly networking, are the traits you need to get on. The world is always changing, and as such you should learn to be opportunistic.”
He also warned students that while many pursue business ventures for financial gain, pursuing what makes you happy makes it sustainable in the long run.
“If you work hard, you’ve got to have a passion for it. Material reward doesn’t necessarily give you that sense of satisfaction that you want.”