From left: G Wu, Mike Murchison, Fluent.ai's Vikrant Tomar, Nu Echo's Yves Normandin, and Massively.ai's Russell Ward discuss the value of AI at the Toronto Tech Summit on May 25, 2018. (Photo by Lynn Greiner.)

Published: May 29th, 2018

Twenty years ago, The Truman Show, a satirical movie that portrayed an orphan who was unknowingly the subject of a reality show where his every move was observed by the viewing public, was considered unrealistic.

Today, said Janelle Dieken, SVP, solutions and product marketing, at omnichannel customer experience vendor Genesys, “we are living in a Truman Show world.”

It’s a world of digital customers, where they use multiple touchpoints and expect self-service options on all of them, added VP of product marketing Dan Rood. And if a business can’t help a customer solve a problem in the preferred environment, brand loyalty goes down by an average of 10 points as soon as he or she has to switch their method of engagement.

But for more complex issues, customers still want to talk to someone – or, increasingly, something. Artificial Intelligence (AI) devices like Google Home and Alexa give us the opportunity to start engaging in natural language conversations with businesses just as we do with each other. Predicts Rood, “We’ll be talking probably a lot more than we’ll be tapping in the future.”

Genesys’ fifth annual Toronto Tech Summit was all about that world of AI, its effect on customer experience, and how it is shaping society. And despite the hype and the myths, the conference’s presenters all see a bright future for the technology.

But oh, the myths.

Mike Murchison, co-founder and CEO of AI chatbot provider Ada Support, pointed out that one huge myth is that AI is inherently valuable. He noted that we need to ask about the applicability of AI to situations, and about its real world impact, not just blindly implement.

“I think there’s an interesting relationship between the state of AI today and what the Web looked like 15 – 20 years ago,” he said. “In the early days of the Web, it was assumed that if your company was on the Internet, it was immediately valuable. And the same is true for AI companies today – there is the assumption that if your URL ends in .ai, it is inherently valuable. That is something that needs to be discussed more, and something that all of us here are thinking about.”

It’s the dancing bear syndrome revisited – it’s not how well the bear can dance, it’s that it can dance at all.

“AI is possibly one of the most overrated – and underrated – technologies,” agreed G Wu, CEO and co-founder of Adeptmind, a Toronto-based search platform for e-commerce that uses machine learning and natural language processing. “It’s overrated because everyone thinks Terminator’s coming. And it’s underrated because AI can have a lot of industrial applications. AI is really good at finding patterns, AI is very good at learning what you have done, and AI is very bad at making reasonable decisions.”

Nonetheless, we’re getting over the hype and seeing practical uses for the technology, with more to come.

“AI isn’t a thing, it’s a pursuit,” said Russell Ward, president and co-founder of custom bot creator Massively.ai. “It’s easy because it’s been done a lot. The idea that the future of where this is going is yet to be realized – that is the hard part.”

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