Until a few years ago, everybody was talking about AI but few fully understood what it meant. This is no longer the case. Today Artificial Intelligence is transforming various sectors, from logistics to finance, energy to insurance, and AI is changing too, expanding in various new directions, such as computer vision and deep learning.
Originating in the middle of the last century as an academic discipline and niche subject that for many years was confined to the realm of science fiction, in the last decade Artificial Intelligence has really taken off. Innumerable applications are already in use in our daily lives, from voice assistants to chatbots, while in industry it is transforming business models and promising developments that until recently were unimaginable. AI is no longer the future, it is already happening, even though we may not be fully aware of it.
As much was confirmed at the fourth edition of the AI Summit in London, Europe’s leading event for the sector of Artificial Intelligence, which takes place in a city that is home to more than 700 companies that work in this particular field. The event, which was held at the ExCel Centre in the British capital as part of Tech Week, involved more than 600 speakers over the course of two days (12-13 June). They came from various industrial sectors and from both large companies and startups. Also playing a lead role was Giuseppe Amoroso, Head of Digital Strategy and Governance at Enel.
The value of data
Everybody was in agreement that AI already represents a revolution. According to Michael Wignall, Microsoft’s Director of Azure Business, 41% of top managers believe that within five years their companies’ current business models will no longer exist. However, 51% admit to not having yet adopted an AI strategy. The reason for this is the problem of data and how to use it, a question that is the starting point for every reflection on Artificial Intelligence.
Ritika Gunnar, VP, Data & AI Expert Labs & Learning of IBM Watson, stressed the importance of Information Architecture (IA) – essentially the ordered use of clean data – by declaring, “there is no AI without IA.” For Gunnar, “AI is not magic that can change everything from one moment to the next,” but it does have the potential to transform the world to the same extent that the invention of electricity did during the last century. Indeed “AI is the new electricity,” extracting value from data in innovative ways through three fundamental processes: prediction, automation and optimisation.
“For a company, not using data that is available to it is like hiding money under the mattress,” explained Josh Sutton, CEO of Agorai. This point is made even more stark by the fact that when it comes to AI, some are racing ahead, such as Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook’s VP Europe Middle-East and Africa, who is already talking about using Augmented Reality to create the “next generation of experience.”
AI: Enel’s Augmented Intelligence
According to the International Data Corporation, 94% of companies agree that AI represents the key to competitive advantage. On the stage at the London Summit, digital native organisations, such as Google and Facebook, alternated with industrial groups that are metamorphosing due to the digital transformation. Enel is one such example. “For us, digitalisation is a key factor for the energy transition across the entire value chain,” explained Amoroso in his keynote speech: not only does it help in the decarbonisation of energy generation sources, but it also makes the way in which electricity is produced and distributed more intelligent.
“In 2016 Enel defined its digital strategy based on three keystones: assets, people and customers.” A wide-ranging programme planned the transfer of all applications onto the cloud, a process that has recently concluded, as CEO Francesco Starace pointed out a few days ago at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum. Using a global platform it is now possible to replicate solutions at a local level, thereby boosting flexibility and efficiency. According to Amoroso, AI is “Augmented Intelligence” that enables the extraction of the maximum possible value from data, the availability of which has increased exponentially. “In 2019 we produced 20 times the amount of data that we produced 10 years ago.”
In London Amoroso outlined some of our Group’s Artificial Intelligence projects: DELFI (Discovering Energy Learning For Innovation) predicts consumption curves for energy customers through the use of 32 million smart meters that we are in the process of installing; AI@5RO increases workplace safety with the use of deep learning and machine vision technologies; Omnichannel Experience Lab improves customer relations using chatbots and virtual assistants; AI for recruiting analyses an extremely large database (collected also though video interviews) to improve the effectiveness of job interviews.
These projects were developed also thanks to the work of 10 Innovation communities (one of which focuses specifically on AI) created by our company; these working groups are without hierarchies and are open to the outside world, enabling Enel to bring value to the innovation ecosystem and help its own business lines to develop new solutions.
Changing the narrative
The London summit, which took place in a country which for now at least is still part of the European Union, also observed that the new digital Europe programme is set to see public investment of 2.5 billion euro in AI from 2021 to 2027. Some chose to stress that the European approach is “human-centric,” as is demonstrated by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), but it nevertheless allows the free flow of non-personal data. Regarding startups, however, Europe could do more and the Israeli model is one worth emulating. While the expression “Artificial Intelligence” is often associated with robotics, a sentiment that was often repeated at the summit was that “democratising AI is the best way to develop business.”
A panel focusing on how to best communicate the story of AI underlined the importance of making AI explainable in order to "build trust": it is essential to always explain why and which data is being used and that the purpose of this is to improve people’s quality of life, an aim that should be communicated using tangible examples. This is the goal of platforms such as AI for Good, with which the United Nations is promoting dialogue about the beneficial use of AI for human life through the development of concrete projects. Many multinationals are involved on this front, as was seen in London, from projects to boost accessibility for the visually impaired to those searching for cures to genetic diseases, as well as those seeking to prevent, or respond to, natural disasters. When applied to big data, it really is the case that Artificial Intelligence can help to make the world a better place.
"Beware of clichés, however. AI is not a magic button, it is not something that can be achieved overnight, it is arduous and expensive work using data that must be continually tested,” warned Kanishka Bhattacharya, Senior Director of Data Science & Analytics at the consultancy firm Publicis Sapient. “Thanks to investments companies have made in the sector, people’s perceptions are changing.” Science fiction is becoming reality and AI is no longer something to be afraid of.