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Future Tech Review #2: The rise of intelligent machines

How AI is changing the way we live

For some, artificial intelligence (AI) will be a blessing, for others a nightmare. Where you land on the spectrum is hugely dependent on whether you believe you’ll soon be out of a job thanks to the modern day C-3PO. Nevertheless, it’s a reality we all have to face – and one that doesn’t include human interaction.

Please hold, a robot will soon assist you

In the continuous race for greater efficiency, lower costs, and higher profits, businesses are looking to robots to replace human labour, especially in the customer service sector.

According to a study by Oracle, nearly 8 out of 10 businesses have already implemented or are planning to adopt AI as a customer service solution by 2020

Adelyn Zhou highlights this growing trend in the above article. She says there are two main ways that artificial intelligence is seeping into this space: “front-end AI-powered bots” and “AI-assisted human agents.” In the former case, computers interact directly with a customer without human intervention whereas the latter provides human customer services agents support from AI technology. But let’s not get carried away, this doesn’t mean you’ll be seeing a robot next time you go to the bank. Daniel Hong, senior product marketing director at [24]/7 – a company working to redefine the way businesses interact with customers- says “front-end AI-powered chatbots” only handle basic customer queries that otherwise clog up the system, wasting time and money. The real-life examples of both front-end AI and AI-assistance are fascinating and proving to be incredibly efficient. For instance, the WeChat Messenger bot used by Chine Merchant Bank handles from 1.5 to 2 million “customer conversations” a day. For the most part, these are simple questions that relate to card balances and payments – allowing bots to respond relatively easily.

On Tuesday, June 20th, McDonald’s announced it would install automated ordering kiosks in 2,500 stores by year’s end. On that same day, shares hit an all-time high as people prepare for the digital shift

Say goodbye to human touch and hello to robotic programming, iPhone

Heads up Apple lovers, the quality of your iPhone will soon be dependent on the smarts of a robot. The Taiwanese manufacturing powerhouse behind Apple’s iPhone and other electronic devices is planning to make their factories human-free through a three-phased automation plan. In his article, Nick Statt begins to peel off the layers of Foxconn’s approach. Automation isn’t new over there, the company produces a staggering 10,000 robots – or “Foxbots” – a year, which has gradually whipped out human labour. Foxconn’s general manager Dai Jia-peng is up against some serious roadblocks to achieve the company’s goal of 30 per cent automation in its Chinese factories by 2020, most notably, the government. They’ve offered a variety of incentives – from financial bonuses to public infrastructure – to encourage human employment.

When e-commerce tech meets physical retail

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve likely heard that e-commerce and cloud computing giant Amazon has offered to purchase eco-minded grocery chain Whole Foods in a lofty and controversial deal announced Friday, June 16th.

Amazon is using Data to reverse-engineer retail in a way that might change it forever.

This means a lot of things for a lot of people, as noted by Bruno Aziza. Aziza argues that Amazon’s move to brick-and-mortar may be the end of retail as we know it or perhaps the beginning – now isn’t that an interesting proposition? They’ve been proactive on this front, tip-toeing into the physical space for a few years now. In December 2016, they launched Amazon Go, the first-ever checkout-free grocery store based out of Seattle, Washington. How do they manage this? AI technology plays a big part. The phone application allows users to roam around the store, pick up items and put them back again – their every move tracked through a user’s “virtual cart.” According to Amazon, it’s made possible by the same technology used in self-driving cars: computer vision, sensor fusion and deep learning. Through this approach, shoppers can avoid pesky checkout lines and retailers can save on operational costs. A win-win situation I’d say!