What Direction Will AI Take You?

It’s a sunny day in Austin, Texas and after a modest run around Lady Bird Lake I cool off by walking down Congress Avenue. I stop on the Congress Avenue Bridge, gaze at the water and admire the people rowing, paddle boarding and canoeing on the lake. Then, I realize I have a decision to make; am I going to walk towards the historic Texas State Capitol to enjoy its architecture, or am I going to walk towards the restaurants and shops for some indulgence?

Imagine if my decision was influenced by my mobile device or my smartwatch anticipating my next steps, by evaluating my past behavior, on a Saturday in downtown Austin after a run at Lady Bird Lake. What if previous data captured indicates that I like to shop at the little boutiques on Congress, or that after I’m cooled down, I like to reward myself with some tasty Tex-Mex at Gueros? I wonder what level of access companies have to my buying habits, my location, and more importantly, how they use this data/intelligence to influence my decisions as a consumer.

The reality is that systems are collecting data on our individual behaviors every single day, the big question is what is done with that data? Is that data being leveraged to influence a corporation’s strategy to be more effective in creating value for their customers? Is it being used to manipulate consumers? In an interview with Tim Cook, Apple CEO, at the 40th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners, he suggested that consumers are being surveilled, and our very own data is being used against us with military-like force. To me that is very concerning, so I asked Michelle Beistle, Chief Privacy Officer at Unisys for her perspective about the notion that consumers are being surveilled. While she is equally concerned about what that implies, she is optimistic and believes that some data collection is good to help companies better serve their customers as long as it is collected and treated ethically and respectfully. 


If you consider the ethics of the human side of being surveilled, imagine you are eating lunch at your favorite restaurant and a server observes you are low on water. They anticipate your need and refill your glass with more water, that’s not an issue, right? Admit it, as a consumer, it is nice when your needs are anticipated to allow for better service or a better customer experience. However, my daughter believes that iced tea should not be refilled until it is gone because it messes up the sweetener balance in the drink. I guess everybody has their own preferences, which is what makes predicting the needs of a consumer so difficult. To further complicate matters, Jim Stikeleather, a business professor at the University of South Florida and former colleague of mine, suggests that humans are not always rational decision makers. The bottom line is customers want customized services, and inaccurate predictions can be problematic. 

Improved customer service can result by enabling consumers and corporations to make faster and smarter decisions, which can be made possible by leveraging one of the top technology trends today, Artificial Intelligence (AI). According to technology philosopher, Sharad Gandhi, AI applied is when a machine mimics “cognitive” functions that humans associate with other human minds, such as “learning” and “problem-solving." A caveat with AI is that we want to employ it to improve customer service through helpful suggestions or actions that don’t make the customer feel like their privacy has been compromised or their decision-making process has been manipulated.

As a consumer, I think business leaders need to take a balanced approach to how they get to know their customers, and I am a big believer that the voice of the customer is critically important in building the products and services that create value for the customer. Robert Marshall, co-author of the upcoming book The Applied Innovation: The Field Guide, recommends that companies should evaluate the incorporation of AI into their products and services, and that it is critical to analyze the business environment first to determine whether there is a specific business opportunity and associated outcome that justifies leveraging an innovative AI technology. He further states that through the lessons learned in observing successful AI implementations, key triggers need to be created that will impact organization action. For example, are government regulations working through the system that impacts the privacy and accessibility of data needed for the use case you are considering? In future articles, I will spotlight successful AI implementations where this approach can be put to use.

My story today is based on my perspective on AI as a consumer, and as a veteran in the technology industry who has seen my fair share of successful and unsuccessful implementations of new technologies. In the end, I decided to indulge myself in some shopping and a Tex-Mex treat, and honestly, my decisions were not influenced by my mobile device or smartwatch. But if I were on a run in Washington, D.C. instead of Austin, it might be valuable to me for AI technologies to leverage my patterns of behavior to provide me with recommendations on sites to see, places to shop, or a place to get a great meal. It could definitely help me make quicker and smarter decisions, which is great as long as the data is captured and treated in an ethical and respectful way.  

Source: Forbes

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