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Since its inception, IBM Watson has been wrongly pegged as the answer to many critical issues - including curing cancer. IBM chief strategy officer, Jeremy Waite, acknowledged that the brand has not done a good enough job at telling its story in explaining just what the AI service provides.

At The Drum Future of Marketing event industry experts came together at the Real-World AI panel to talk how AI can have a profound short-term positive impact on the performance of businesses and how it’s the marketer who is best-placed to lead the AI revolution.

Challenges to AI

But before we realise this, AI and how it is used in businesses itself needs to mature, said Waite. He reminded that only about 3% of the industry is using AI.

Looking ahead, within 18 months to three years, Waite expects this figure to rise a whopping 28%. “Particularly when you look at healthcare. It takes such a long time to mature and a lot of it is trying to educate the marketplace on what it is and isn't,” he said.

There is a competitive element stopping players from talking about some of the incredible projects being driven by AI. Waite added: “Any digital transformation project is going to take around four years, and 85% of them fail.

“That's the biggest challenge we have, trying to educate people about what it is that most people in the industry don't want to share.”

AI – what does it really means and should we believe the hype?

James Cannings, co-founder of MMT Digital, expressed how “the industry tends to overhype in the short term and underestimate in the long term and as such AI is being underestimated in the long term.”

Some businesses, he said, find it hard to define AI or what that would achieve for them.  According to Waite, if it doesn’t understand, reason, learn and interact, then it’s not AI. To be true AI, it needs to do all four.

For Cannings, AI means machine learning, and by that, he means it needs to be more than a clever algorithm, which is part of the problem that every marketing platform/data analysis has. “Everything of a sudden is AI powered. I saw the world's first AI powered radio-controlled helicopter on Amazon for £34.99, that is so unhelpful.

“For me, unless it has an element of machine learning, it doesn't count. That said, that's incredibly broad, in terms of using those types of techniques for image replication, voice activation, data analysis etc. It is so broad. When you ask how many people are using AI, very few have. It's quite vast but difficult to define.”

Although, according to Joanne Smith, group chief executive, TCC and Recordsure. if a business has already started its AI journey and not considered automation or robotics, then that is somewhat pointless. For Smith, automation and robotics should be the “first steps” before implementing AI.  You need to start with the problem, not AI, she added. “People get excited about AI, and then they go down rabbit holes and don't fix the right problems. Start with automation, make sure your business is efficient and then you can work out what AI is.”

Real life lessons when using AI

For instance, last year Vodafone UK launched TOBi – the artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot – as an innovative way of offering our customers a quicker web chat service.  TOBi, a virtual customer services’ agent, handles a range of customer queries including device troubleshooting, usage and order tracking amongst many others. Vodafone leveraged IBM Watson’s AI to power the chatbot. “With an increasing number of our consumers asking for an ideal customer experience and a need for prompt and effective response to their queries, TOBi has been our answer to that,” said John Davies, head of digital, Vodaphone.

One major worry in our industry has been that AI has the potential to eradicate jobs. However, by 2020 AI will create 2.3 million jobs and eliminating 1.8 million, which is a good balance said Smith.

What AI will do is help marketers do their jobs, agreed the panelists. These technologies allow our frontline teams to be more productive and, will help create new roles and profiles, according to Davies.

“When it comes down to it, marketers care about the cognitive insights/engagement which come from AI, they don’t care about the automation/robotics side, “concluded Waite.

“It's about how it can save marketers’ time and how it can help them be smarter. When you start looking at it like that, we should stop calling it AI altogether and say that it is an intelligent assistant.”

The Drum Future of Marketing took place on 22 November at The Crystal in London. To register your interest for 2019, click here.

MMT Digital is a sponsor of this event.