Our AI Future: AI-Powered Technologies Will Make Some Industries More Productive And Disrupt Others

In the first part in this series, which looks at some of the deeper business-focussed AI discussions and innovations currently taking form both locally and internationally, Accenture's Athina Kanioura using the example of volumetric holograms to illustrate how AI is streamlining some industries and business practices but completely disrupting others.

By: Mandy J Watson
Posted: 26 August 2019
Category: Feature
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The AI Expo Africa banner

Last September I attended the inaugural AI Expo Africa, which was held in Cape Town. (I was also co-opted onto on a panel talking about AI and ethics but that's a story for another time.) AI Expo Africa is a brand new event but it managed to draw some technology heavyweights from around the country, as well as local representatives of some major international brands, and guests and speakers from all over the world.

The two days, which were primarily aimed at business leaders and entrepreneurs, included keynote addresses, an exhibition area, workshops for students, and daily parallel tracks focussed on areas such as innovation and case studies, so it was quite broad in its reach and this meant some difficult choices in deciding which sessions to attend.

AI Expo Africa was two successful but info-dense days of ideas, possibilities, innovation, and trepidation (if you're me, which is why I ended up on the AI And Ethics panel) that suggested where we are, where we are going, and, perhaps, where we should go but rather than pick any one session to talk about in great detail I thought I'd summarise the general feel, and some of the speakers' priorities, with a handful of interesting comments, and extracts from five particularly fascinating presentations, that I took note of during the convention. (They've been edited for clarity as not all the speakers' first languages were English.)

This is the first; the second looks at customer experience (and chatbots), the third looks at synergy (and automation), and the fourth looks at new business models (and the insurance industry) - keep an eye on the home page for the additions to the series.

Athina Kanioura: Something that you do for one industry or for some of the industries, which has a very positive impact, has a very negative impact for another industry

Up first is Athina Kanioura, the chief data scientist at Accenture's Applied Intelligence division, who is responsible for the company's AI technologies. She gave a keynote address in the "case studies" track looking at where we have come from in the human and machine journey and where we are going.

The progress includes positive gains in various areas, such as sales and customer service (an increase of 10% to 15% in customer satisfaction), finance and accounting (a 5% to 10% increase in financial forecast accuracy), and supply-chain procurement (a 5% to 10% decrease in forecast error).

She also turned her attention to three common myths - robots are coming for us, machines will take our jobs, and current approaches still apply - looked at how the "firm of the future" will be structured, and looked at AI's future impact on various sectors in South Africa.

During one particularly interesting section in which she discussed a handful of near-future predictions from various consulting firms Kanioura gave an example of how technology being developed to improve productivity in one sector will ultimately end up disrupting another.

"Digital assistants will keep employees very productive 24/7. We are experimenting with several of our clients - believe it or not; I know it sounds very futuristic - on 'teleporting'.

"Take a big federated company like Unilever, that I am also working with. When they have global meetings they [send] people from everywhere, even for very general meetings. We are now experimenting with them to demonstrate how you don't have to move people for every single meeting. People are 'teleported' so you have your hologram and you have virtual meetings, which are actually very productive because you've saved a lot of time: no commuting back and forth.

"Now think of what kind of implications these technologies will have for the travel industry. Something that you do for one industry or for some of the industries, which has a very positive impact, has a very negative impact for another industry. Currently in the travel industry - especially airlines - 50% of the revenue comes from business travel and 50% is for entertainment. So they would have to invent [a new] business model and make sure that this 30% of business travellers they are losing [can be countered with acceleration in] the entertainment channel.

"So the business models are being reinvented continuously through AI."

The technology that Kanioura is describing here is live streamed volumetric holograms and fans of science fiction films will be very familiar with the concept - we've been seeing forms of it utilised as a communications technology in everything from Star Wars in 1977 (via a recording of Princess Leia, rather than a live stream) to Avengers: Endgame this year in which some of the surviving Avengers conduct a meeting from various parts of the planet - and beyond.

The AI Expo Africa banner
Above: In Avengers: Endgame the Avengers hold a meeting as volumetric holograms.
A number of platforms have been researching and experimenting with volumetric content, including video platform Vimeo, which started researching how to live stream holograms last year [please note that that Vimeo blog post is animated GIF/bandwidth heavy] and actually achieved it using cheap hardware and open-source software, all of which was chosen intentionally so that any interested Vimeo Live member with a little bit of technical/coding know-how can set up a system at home without expensive setup costs being a barrier to entry.

Of course, and unsurprisingly (and, therefore, it needs to be mentioned), there's also an adult-entertainment company from the USA, Naughty America, which is using volumetric video capture to allow its customers to view its AR strippers [the link is reasonably safe for work] in the privacy of their own homes through its Android app that superimposes the AR (augmented reality) strippers into the customers' rooms. It demoed the technology in a private meeting room during electronics trade show CES in January this year and indicated that VR (virtual reality) will be next.

Streamed volumetric holograms are quite exciting from a technology standpoint even though it has the potential to disrupt more industries than just those in the travel/airline/hotel sector, as well as, if you think about it, the taxi industry and the public-transport sector, and perhaps even adult-entertainment services such as private clubs. It will also enhance others: imagine what live television-news and sports broadcasts might be like with live streamed volumetric content that's beyond what AR currently provides at, for example, a sports stadium or as a 2D broadcast at home.

Plus, telecommunications industries are going to love the demand for all that extra bandwidth.

Accenture Applied Intelligence: Official Site, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter
Athena Kanioura: Accenture Profile, LinkedIn

Mandy J Watson was a media guest at the 2018 AI Expo Africa conference. The 2019 conference is being held in Cape Town at the Century City Conference Centre on 4 and 5 September 2019.

Tags: Technology

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