AI, What's The Big Idea!

The tech heavyweights, Apple, Google and Amazon have all invested heavily into AI (artificial intelligence) technology but what’s driving the push into this intriguing tech space? What are the main offerings and how might they be utilised by retailers moving forwards? The offerings as they stand at the moment are Apple’s Siri, Google, whom couldn’t come up with a sexy name went with ‘Parsey McParseface’ (no it really did!), and Windows Cortana. For this post I'm going to focus on Apple’s, Siri because as some know I’m an Apple fan. How much Apple actually parted with to buy Siri Inc’s, Siri Virtual Assistant is a closely guarded secret (and not surprisingly Siri itself won’t tell you) however if rumours are to be believed, and industry journalists and luminaries close to the action, to be trusted, the cost was between $150m and $250m, with most agreeing that it was over the $200m marker.  Prior to selling up, Siri’s investors put $24m into the startup, so to say that Siri Inc’s director/investors went home financially punch drunk on that fated day, April 28th, 2010, is no exaggeration. So just to be absolutely clear, Apple purchased an iPhone App that previously only had 250,000 downloads (and all of those were free), an iPhone App for what most believe was a cheque for over $200,000,000 (that's eight zeros).  Siri was first launched as an app available on Apple's App Store in the United States by Siri, Inc using voice recognition technology from Nuance and their service partners, users could make reservations at specific restaurants, buy movie tickets or get a cab by dictating instructions in natural language to Siri. Why did Apple by Siri Inc?  Let's face it for most of us the “Siri experience” hasn't exactly been brilliant.

Mobile Search

Siri has been an integral part of iOS since iOS 5 and was introduced as a key element of the iPhone 4S on October 14, 2011. Many believe the primary reason Apple bought Siri was so that they could get a backdoor into mobile search. Apple didn't want to take on Google directly as they had already honed the mastery of web search, instead they saw the direction of the Khamsin which was twisting one way, then the next, towards mobile assisted search.  Apple’s analysts had hit a nirvana conclusion, that voice-activated search across mobile could be a game changer because, on mobile, convenience is everything and to facilitate Internet of things, connected convenience was umbilically linked to voice recognition and natural English understanding.  Voice search on mobile was the veritable nut to crack.

A digitally connected world

Apple had something Amazon didn't, and that was a sea of smartphone addicted customers whose iPhones, whether they were aware of it or not, were rapidly become the nucleus of their digitally connected world. Neither Google, Amazon or Microsoft had this advantage, namely an awesome device that customers were in love with primarily because Apple’s OS is so easy to use, yes there are millions of Android customers but it could be argued that the Apple iPhone in all its various variants is the easiest Smartphone to use.  It's no coincidence that Apple deliberately created an OS that majored on lifestyle, convenience and ease of use.  So what did Apple see beyond mobile search, what was the real prize? When a mobile device became the primary gateway point for internet connected devices, devices in the home, at work and at play, Apple’s vision was that Siri would be the technology that made interaction a fingers-snap.  Apple recognised that the UI of the future was always going to be the recognised and interpreted human voice complete with all of its synonyms, colour, context and sentiment.  Perhaps Apple was inspired by C3PO “fluent in over 6 million languages”.

Machine Learned Artificial Intelligence

So where is this all going and what’s the big idea? Have you heard of the term “Machine Learned Artificial Intelligence, MLAI, if you haven't you will.  This is the key that will unlock revenues of such magnitude that they would make an Egyptian pharaoh blush with greed induced cupidity. We carry our mobiles everywhere even into the bathroom.  In fact, according to multiple surveys, the majority of people regularly use their smartphone while on the toilet. Depending on which survey you look at, anywhere from 38 percent to 75 percent in actual fact! The point I'm making is that the device that unlocks, and can potentially control all of our connected universes is with us wherever we are but more importantly Siri becomes the single invisible interface between then, that’s why Apple had to buy Siri Inc back in 2010 to lock that technology away from competitors. From starting your car to playing the right tune, to turning on your lights when you get home to tuning the warmth of your heating to ordering more toilet roll; Siri becomes the interpreter into all these apps and unlike Amazon’s Alexa, Siri is already your BFF and doesn’t live on a shelf.

Apple's AI acquisition trail blisters on.  As recently as August this year Apple acquired artificial intelligence startup Turi Inc. for (wait for it) approximately $200 million, in yet another deal to strategically own super advanced computing capabilities for its products and services. Turi’s technology helps developers create and manage software and services that utilise machine learning. Apple could use this to more rapidly integrate the technology with future products, integrated partner technologies and their apps.  According to the new market research report "Artificial Intelligence (AI) Market by Technology (Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing (NLP), Image Processing, and Speech Recognition), Application & Geography - Global Forecast to 2020", the artificial intelligence market is estimated to reach USD 5.05 Billion by 2020.

What does your brand plan to do with Siri?

So finally how can a retailer utilise MLAI or even begin to explore it. If it were me I would go back to the Holy Grail. Put the tech baggage down for a second, (yes I know it’s exciting) and put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Ask yourself this. What could make life more convenient for our customers? That needs to be the starting point for any exploration in this dizzying tech. Imagine for example if a customer could go online, click on an item they wanted to purchase and then simply say, “Hey Siri”, do they have this in black and in my size?”  Siri could then give a direct answer as in “No, they don't, but they have these ones that are” or even cooler would be a response such as “What do you plan to wear with those”. As a brand, I would have leveraged the MLAI that Apple has invested, millions (if not billions) of R&D Dollars into, for the sole purpose of making buying from my brand convenient and more engaging (am I allowed to say fun). As for your software development labs (in-house, or external), they should already be MVP’ing and testing ideas that start begin and end with convenience and taking Siri seriously. On the 13th June, Apple opened up Siri to 3rd party developers with a public API, so the magic box is just waiting to be played with and is only limited by budget, technology and imagination.

What does your brand plan to do with Siri? What's the big idea?

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