On Thursday 4 May 2017, Hogan Lovells’ Tech Hub hosted Azeem Azhar, renowned strategist, product entrepreneur and writer, who spoke about the current status and implications of Artificial Intelligence (“AI”).

Science fiction or science fact: the current AI boom

Far from being a futuristic ambition, we are living in a world where countless daily activities are powered by AI. Whilst Artificial General Intelligence may yet be a few years away, we are seeing applications of Artificial Narrow Intelligence across a range of use cases from virtual personal assistants to news generation, personalised content and movie recommendations. As Azeem outlined, this penetration of AI over the past few years has been growing exponentially. This has been enabled by the combination of progress in three critical areas, each of which supports and feeds into the other – processing power, availability of data and innovations in machine learning.

Our ability to exploit these technological developments as consumers and businesses has been dramatically enhanced by the availability and accessibility of a range of devices on different platforms (iOS, Android, enterprise IT, etc.) which have themselves been further enabled by the advanced integration of software with real world. The result is continued improvements in the practical usefulness of AI in the real world, leading to greater take up of the technology, rapid ROI and corresponding growth in investment.

Looking at these trends, Azeem identifies a positive feedback loop (the “AI lock-in loop”) whereby use of AI generates more data, which improves AI products, which increases profits, which supports further investment in product development – a cycle which further embeds the role of AI in the delivery of products and services across the economy. The scale of the commercial implications off these developments is evident in value shifts among large listed corporates, with tech companies having largely usurped major industrial and consumer goods companies by size of market cap.

What is the impact?

The impact of the AI boom will vary across industries but will be a function of:

  1. the “core capabilities” of AI (including prediction / classification / regression)
  2. the available “interfaces” (natural language processing / voice / images / etc.)
  3. the “output” which can enable or serve clients and businesses (text / drones & robots / voice / etc.)

For law firms, the impact is already apparent in areas including contract analysis, document discovery and due diligence. In healthcare, AI is enabling earlier and more precise detection of cancer and other illnesses, and there are a plethora of other examples in all industries from consumer finance to automotive. But many of these technologies are still in their infancy and assuming the AI lock-in loop holds true, there will be a notable transformation in AI output, at least in the foreseeable future.

Perhaps less apparent at the moment are the potential secondary or tertiary effects that the adoption of AI in one industry could have on another, such as the effects of self-driving cars on the insurance industry or city planning. It is also unclear what the wider effects of greater deployment of AI might be on jobs and other aspects of society such as privacy and data protection. Whilst it is possible to be optimistic that society will adjust to the impacts through, for example, education and retraining, just how far the implementation of AI will go in practice is no doubt one in which regulation and politics will play a part, as well as economics.

Practical implications for your business

The clear message is that all companies should be considering the impact that AI may have, whether because it represents an opportunity to improve performance of certain types of tasks or because the growth in the deployment of AI has the potential to change the way in which business is done. In practice, this includes:

  1. having the right governance in place to identify and implement an AI strategy;
  2. recruiting staff with the right skills and knowledge to drive and implement that AI strategy; and
  3. investing in appropriate data platforms and interfaces to enable development and deployment of AI in relevant areas.

Watch the Video: Artificial Intelligence – Why it matters now