COVID-19 Fuelling Acceleration of AI and ML Strategies with C-Suite Involvement


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“Businesses now consider AI critical to their success as AI continues to grow in importance…Because of the current situation, companies will be looking to automate or improve processes to accommodate remote working, increase productivity, and decrease operating costs.” – says Wilson Pang, CTO at Appen in an interview with Enterprise Talk.

ET Bureau: How do you see AI adding power to the digital transformation initiatives of companies- that are more critical than ever before?

Companies have been looking for ways to integrate AI into their business initiatives, some more now than ever. Because of the current situation, companies will be looking to automate or improve processes to accommodate remote working, increase productivity, and decrease operating costs. Others are focusing on providing an enhanced customer experience to elevate their business above competitors. Companies will be working to increase revenue from either economy of scale or through an entirely new business offering with AI.

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ET Bureau: The annual State of AI Report for 2020 says that training data plays a key role in successfully using AI. What steps do you recommend to companies to ensure they have this data at hand?

There are five main principles to be mindful of:

1. Organizations need to define clearly what kind of business problems they want to solve through AI. Starting from there, they can look into what types of data are needed. They may have the data internally or need to collect/annotate from external sources. An experienced partner like Appen can always help define the right data strategy.

2. Companies need a system to make data available. It should clarify where the data comes from, and who the experts are in those domains.

3. Firms need to address the integration of internal and external data. For example, an online travel company has people’s destinations, where the ticket was booked, and how many they purchased. External data that could be integrated is weather data for the destination.

4. Organizations need a different approach for structured, semi-structured, and unstructured data. The company should create a team to formalize the processes for using these different types of data.

5. Companies need the right mindset. People shouldn’t focus on what data they have, but on the data, they need to solve the problems they face. Executives should think of data as an asset.

There is also an important consideration when it comes to sourcing data and making sure it is sourced responsibly. This means that your AI that’s built responsibly is not only unbiased and works for everyone, but your supply chain is responsible and abides by a code of ethics. This means that data was sourced with permission; you paid for it with a fair wage for workers all over the world, and you worked with vendors that focus on wellness, not just the bottom line.

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ET Bureau: Many organizations globally are still hesitant to put core processes in the hands of AI. How do you think that mindset will change?

Many organizations have adopted internet usage at the core of their processes, and AI is on a similar journey from fringes to core value offering. Some will take their time, but the ones who adopt early will lead the way and inspire/push others to join the adoption bandwagon as the technology continues to prove its worth and become a competitive edge in an increasingly digital world.

With the State of AI 2020, we found that nearly three-quarters of businesses now consider AI critical to their success as AI continues to grow in importance across companies of various sizes and industries. Almost half of those who responded feel their company is behind in their AI journey, so it’s likely that we will see increased investments as those who feel are behind are working to adopt AI, while the ones who are ahead will try to maintain their lead.

ET Bureau: While COVID has not affected investment plans for AI, do you also see an increase in the adoption of AI tools to combat the slowdown brought about by the pandemic?

We are already seeing an increase in tools to help social distance, and many of them use AI. There have been reports that the pandemic will help increase the time to market for autonomous vehicles are the need for social distance extends. From public transit to private transportation, people are looking for ways to distance and stay safe – and this will help accelerate the adoption of AI.

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Wilson joined Appen in November 2018 as CTO and is responsible for the company’s
products and technology. Wilson has over 17 years’ experience in software engineering and
data science. Prior to joining Appen, Wilson was Chief Data Officer of CTrip in China, the
second largest online travel agency company.

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