IPsoft Digital Workforce SummitAs Artificial Intelligence (AI) continues to become a ubiquitous force in global society, businesses, organizations, and nations will have to consider how, where, and when to make strategic investments in the technology. This was the focus of a conversation between executives from IPsoft, Intel, the US Council on Competitiveness, and ff Venture Capital during The Digital Workforce Summit 2018.

The conversation began with a question posed by Mark Minevich, IPsoft’s Digital Fellow, regarding whether or not we’re in an era of reduced interest and funding in AI projects, otherwise known as AI Winter.

John Frankel, Founding Partner of ff Venture Capital, said it’s unfair to call the current state of AI a Winter because we’ve seen crucial innovation during the past five years that has driven the market forward.

“We’ve had a whole slew of fundamental discoveries that have made voice interfaces actually useful,” he explained. “They have gotten us far closer to the dream of self-driving vehicles.” Frankel did caution, however, that as innovation slows, and no ground-breaking discoveries are made, you’ll likely start to hear the term AI Winter used more often.

AI is going to be like electricity was in the 1920s or the internet was a couple decades ago or mobile a decade ago. Everyone is going to talk about something different and then it will just drop into the fabric of everything.

— John Frankel, Founding Partner, ff Venture Capital

“AI is going to be like electricity was in the 1920s or the internet was a couple decades ago or mobile a decade ago,” he said, referring to the technology’s ubiquity. “Everyone is going to talk about something different and then it will just drop into the fabric of everything. No one talks about [being] a mobile company today or an internet company today. In a decade, no one will say they’re an AI company.”

Where to Invest in AI

When asked where he would invest capital to prepare for the future of AI, Frankel said he would focus on voice interfaces. “For any tech stack to really be functional, you need consumers to change their behavior. What Alexa, Google Home, and Siri have taught us is that if a technology works, people want to interact in that way,” he said.

Frankel said there are limitations to how people use voice interfaces, such as building a spreadsheet, which presents an opportunity to investors and companies willing to experiment with building technology that overcomes these limitations.

We actually feel that data and AI go together. You can’t be investing into AI without looking at data, because data fuels the AI revolution. A lot of the AI algorithms are getting open-sourced.

— Sanjit Dang, Managing Director of Investment, Intel

For Sanjit Dang, Managing Director of Investment at Intel, the major opportunities presented by AI will exist in the data that the solutions can take advantage of as well as collect. “We actually feel that data and AI go together,” he said. “You can’t be investing into AI without looking at data, because data fuels the AI revolution. A lot of the AI algorithms are getting open-sourced. So, like John also mentioned, AI will be like electricity.”

Dang referenced two companies he thinks are ahead of the curve in terms of collecting data to fuel business innovation. The first company, which Dang did not reference by name, offers free Wi-Fi to small businesses in India. The company then collects any data that goes through Wi-Fi routers to use for its own business processes. “That’s changing the game,” he said. “That’s collecting data at scale and playing a game that nobody else is playing.”

He also referenced a company in Boston called True Fit, which does custom clothing fitting and product recommendations based on user data. “On the back end, they have mapped out 200 attributes of every shirt out there. They’re sitting on a data gold mine,” he said.

The United States’ Role in AI Leadership

In terms of whether or not the United States is, and will continue to, lead the AI revolution, Minevich said he is concerned that countries like China and The United Arab Emirates may someday usurp the US in terms of AI innovation.

“Eric Schmidt, from Google’s parent company Alphabet, warned recently, China is on track to surpass the United States in artificial intelligence by 2025 and dominate the industry by 2030, unless Americans change their minds very drastically,” Minevich said. “The international community is actively discussing how to influence AI using global cooperation and national strength. The government of United Emirates just appointed minster responsible for AI. Many things are changing.”

Our country right now is operating in a very low productivity environment…From the federal government side, we have a massive investment, however, we are now faced with global competitors that are amassing resources and partners and capabilities on a scale that we’ve never seen before.

— Deborah L. Wince-Smith, CEO, US Council on Competitiveness

Deborah L. Wince-Smith, CEO of the US Council on Competitiveness, mostly agreed with Minevich’s concern. “Our country right now is operating in a very low productivity environment,” she said. “The United States still spends two-thirds of global R&D [research and development]. From the federal government side, we have a massive investment, however, we are now faced with global competitors that are amassing resources and partners and capabilities on a scale that we’ve never seen before.”

She said the US Council on Competitiveness is meeting with Chief Technology Officers across all sectors to urge them to double down on R&D in order to ensure that the US maintains its leadership in AI and computing.

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