"Why Iteration is not Innovation"

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You’re not an artificial intelligence company… at least, not yet

Once you get over the mental image of renegade robots or Matrix-esque digital overlords, the concept of artificial intelligence (A.I.) becomes both more approachable and more intriguing. Whether it’s in the form of besting the world’s foremost tactical genius in the hardest board game known to man, titans of heavy industry utilizing it, chatbots inventing their own negotiation language, or Google upending the job searching process or refocusing consumer photography, A.I. is having a moment. A big moment. IBM made a huge bet on the nascent industry when it pivoted to Watson and cloud services as the twin engine powering its economic future as the company transitioned into more of an SAAS operation. Across the board, major tech players like Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Google, Amazon, IBM, and so on are utilizing A.I. or A.I.-like technologies to propel their businesses forward.

But — just because you may use a neural network to crunch some data does not make you an A.I. company. Far from it, in fact.

Being an A.I. company goes far beyond simply using some tools associated with artificial intelligence. Just because you might possess some valuable data, and you’re training machines to learn with it does not make you an A.I. company. Just because you’re integrating into a voice recognition system for ease of user experience does not make you an A.I. company. No, being an A.I. company is a mindset that pervades the entire firm. It consumes your thoughts and guides your strategy. Now, that’s not to say every decision should be made with A.I. in mind. Enterprise A.I. exists to help us achieve our business ends, so in that way it is an intermediary only — not an end goal in and of itself. But, by retraining your company to think and act like an A.I. company could be just the thing that propels it into a more prosperous future.

Andrew Ng would know — he’s one of the founders of the Google Brain team and has served as the chief scientist for Chinese tech giant Baidu. In a recent interview with Venture Beat, he said, “You’re not an AI company because there are a few people using a few neural networks somewhere…. It’s much deeper than that.”

As described in VB, in Ng’s view, while “it’s possible to create a website for a shopping mall, that doesn’t make the mall an internet company. In much the same way, just implementing basic machine learning does not make a standard technology company (or any other business) an AI company.”

Ng identified four (4) key elements to becoming a true A.I. company. They are:

  1. Strategic about acquiring data
    • “Data is used as the fuel for machine learning systems. It can provide a massive advantage to companies that manage to set up the virtuous cycle”
  2. Centralizing data storage
    • “Once an AI company has acquired the data, Ng said that they tend to store it in centralized warehouses for processing. Most enterprises have their information spread across multiple different warehouses, and collating that data for machine learning can prove difficult.”
  3. Employ modern development practices
    • Instead of rolling out a beta before the business unit or client ever gets to interact with it, A.I. companies focus on hyper-iterative development processes that result in constant progress showcases to the relevant stakeholders. “That means it’s possible to change the product and learn from the changes.”
  4. Change the way they think about and title jobs
    • The titles we give and the metrics by which we judge project and product managers will have to change to embrace the A.I. future
    • As Ng & Venture Beat put it: “In the past, one key way a PM could direct an engineering team was through producing wireframe diagrams laying out the way an application should work. That isn’t as useful for AI use-cases like autonomous vehicles and chatbots.” Instead, PMs should be judged more on things like precision and recall percentages of his/her A.I. systems.

Not every company should be an A.I. company. But, just because you have a smidgen of A.I. under the hood does not make you an A.I. company either. To truly be thought of and labeled as such, you have to fundamentally change the way you think about problem solving, corporate governance, development protocols, assigning value systems, the works. If that’s something you want to become, we can help. We’re the innovation experts. But if not, we understand. That’s fine too. Either way, it pays to know what separates the real A.I. companies.


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Jeff Francis

Jeff Francis is a veteran entrepreneur and founder of Dallas-based digital product studio ENO8. Jeff founded ENO8 to empower companies of all sizes to design, develop and deliver innovative, impactful digital products. With more than 18 years working with early-stage startups, Jeff has a passion for creating and growing new businesses from the ground up, and has honed a unique ability to assist companies with aligning their technology product initiatives with real business outcomes.

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