According to a new McKinsey global survey on how artificial intelligence (AI) is being adopted across industries and regions, there are signs that the technology is becoming more mainstream. Of all the sectors analyzed, retail showed the largest increase in uptake, with 60 percent of companies reporting to have embedded at least one AI capability; a 35-percentage-point increase from 2018.
The nine AI capabilities surveyed were: natural language text understanding, natural language speech understanding, natural language generation, virtual agents or conversational interfaces, computer vision, robotic process automation, machine learning, physical robotics, and autonomous vehicles.
Overall, AI is seen to be generating returns. The majority of companies that have adopted AI report revenue upticks in business areas where AI is used. 44 percent say AI has reduced costs.
A tech experts prediction
Swedish tech visionary and business executive advisor Tuva Palm argues that the technologies evolving right now, before our googly eyes and fingertips, will have a greater impact on our lives than 150 years of industrial revolution did on our predecessors’.
Could she be right? Let’s just say not many would disagree with the well-known host of STHLM TECH, the largest tech meetup in Europe. Tuva Palm had a stellar career at Oracle before switching to fintech disruptor Klarna, and later Europe’s first digital-only bank Nordnet as CTO/CPO. Today she’s involved with Danish Neo-bank Lunar Way and venture capitalist firm Atomico, to name just two.
Back to the tech revolution, and the company that has disrupted markets globally: Uber. The past years of Uberization, Tuva Palm says, have affected many companies, if not all.
What is it with Uber that spills over to other industries?
“First of all, the simple, frictionless user experience with Uber has increased customers’ expectations in all other user experiences. That means that customers now expect smooth, frictionless experiences when they do other stuff, like managing their finances, ordering pizza, shopping for a new kitchen and so on. Additionally, we’ve seen Uber manage to dominate the taxi market globally not by owning a fleet of cars, but by owning the customer relationship. This revolutionary business model has impacted and inspired other companies, creating a new era where the relationship with the customer is more important than ever.”
“Everything in the shopping experience can be improved by AI”
What can we expect AI technology to bring to the e-commerce sector? Automation based on consumer behavior, presumably, but how and with what types of services?
“More or less everything in the shopping experience can be improved by AI. You could have a personal shopper helping you identify what you didn’t know you wanted, based on data from earlier purchases and other sources. If you buy a trip to a ski resort you might need new gloves and skis, as well as a hotel room and a transfer from the airport. We will see more situation-based shopping experiences.”
“Furthermore, we will see more ways of leveraging technology to reduce the number of returns. AR and AI are already starting to take the trial and error out of buying clothes or furniture remotely. I’ve met with one interesting company that is developing technology to take full body measurements using only a mobile. Combined with AI and AR this could provide customers with a realistic picture of how the clothes would actually look on them, before they press ‘buy’. It could help reduce returns tremendously.”
It seems that the gig economy trend is weaker, or slower, than anticipated. The share of the US workforce earning income as independent contractors rose by only one percentage point from 2007 to 2016. Weren’t we all supposed to be gig workers supplying the platform economy by now?
“Everything goes both faster and slower than first anticipated. If we go back to the earlier question around future e-commerce experience, and compare what we believe today with historical predictions, we realize that the future we see ahead still is very similar to what Boo.com presented back in 2000, just before they went bankrupt. I believe we will see more gig workers, as well as more collaborations and partnerships between companies, in the years ahead.”
If you had to choose one tech company in the world that could disrupt the e-commerce industry or on-demand businesses even more…?
“Google. Because they know where we are and what we are doing, more than anyone else.”
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AI in 2020
What do you expect 2020 will bring in terms of new tech and changes to consumer behavior?
“The biggest step in 2019 in terms of tech was the progress within quantum computing. However, it will take forever for that to reach our lives. From an engineering perspective, it is usually not the newest tech that is currently impacting customer behavior. There is a bit of a lag between new tech evolving and it’s actually changing how we behave.”
“So for the next year I believe we will see customers demanding more and more predictive personalized services, provided to them by technologies using AI and machine learning. AI has been around for 70 years, but we still haven’t seen its full potential, and it still hasn’t had a significant impact on our lives or behaviors. But I believe we will see those changes in the next 5 to 10 years.”
Which sector do you expect a new Uber or a new Amazon to enter, and disrupt?
“Everything that comes with friction. I’m surprised we don’t yet have smoother solutions for booking and paying in restaurants, for example. Same is true for booking a trip.”
What’s your take on crowd shipping, provided by Roadie, Deliv and others? Are local couriers the answer to last-mile delivery challenges like traffic congestion and high costs?
“They definitely could be. I have seen several players trying to do something like Uber for the last mile. No one has succeeded yet, but I do believe we will need to be creative and smarter to reduce our carbon footprint and, at the same time, deliver faster to customers.”
What tech innovations are you most excited about at the moment?
“Quantum computing. When – or if – we get it right, it will turn everything we know today upside down. Calculations will be so fast, breaking a blockchain crypto could happen in seconds. Combine it with AI and we will have something so smart and so fast that it is very difficult to predict what we could actually get out of it. I would assume the quantum era is 10 to 20 years away. But still, very exciting!”