Artificial Intelligence Explained

Written By: Tad Witkowicz

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an umbrella name for a range of computer algorithms that process usually very large volume of data and derive knowledge and conclusions independently of human intervention.

While a human brain functions as a general intelligence entity able to view, listen, interpret, recall, decide and act on a wide range of information at the same time, AI is generally designed to a smaller and more specific set of functions.

An autonomous self driving vehicle operates using AI

As shown in the diagram below, the AI components are used on their own to solve a specific range of problems which  together can perform a broad function such as operate a vehicle autonomously. Most business applications use one or two components of AI.   

Over time it is expected that AI will approach the capability of general intelligence and perhaps one day match or even surpass human intelligence according to some experts. Some think this capability is almost here others think it is decades away and some believe it will never happen. 

How it works.

The best way to think of AI is to imagine an entity that remembers all the data it learned, can absorb huge amounts of new data, can analyze it within seconds, extract its meaning, derive conclusions and make decisions without a human. It has no emotions, can work nonstop and never asks for a raise. That is a priceless employee to be sure. We're not quite there yet but moving quickly.

The one thing to realize is that AI depends on data, huge amounts of data in some cases. AI from 1980s and 1990s were programmed by human experts to execute tasks that humans knew how to based on their experience. These “Expert Systems” operated using decision trees of the type  “if this then that” that were designed by humans. The modern AI learns from data about what to do and how to do it. The amount of data needed to teach an AI machine to perform can range from 10s of thousands of samples as in measuring Brand sentiment on Twitter to million pictures to recognize images.

Examples of applications. 

 AI is expected to disrupt every business. A table below shows examples of AI deployment in various industries. The list of potential applications is much longer. In principle, AI should be able to do just about anything and perhaps do it better than humans including creating art and cooking dinners. You can find on the Web art created by Google AI and buy a cook book created by IBM's Watson. The author of this tutorial actually used the Watson cookbook to prepare some meals. In general, they were not great. For example a duck took many more ingredients some of which were more expensive than author's own recipe and took at least twice as long to prepare. In this experiment, the ROI was not impressive. 

The table also shows how many vendors are working on solutions for the various industries

AI facts and figures 

As of this writing, who maintains the most complete directory of high technology companies list 15,900 companies World wide in the Artificial Intelligence (AI) category.  Of these 6,043 companies are in North America as shown in Table 1 below. What is interesting is that 90% of AI companies employ less than 50 people. This suggests that AI industry is dominated by start-ups and that the technology is in the early stages of innovation with still undetermined future potential.

US Venture Companies (VCs) invested more than $9B during 2019 and over $24B during the past 5 years in US based AI start-ups. Various market forecasts predict AI products and services market to exceed $100B in 2025, a ten fold increase from 2019.

 Key considerations if you're thinking of deploying AI in your business.

    • As mentioned earlier AI is best at addressing a narrow set or perhaps only one business problem. What is that one problem? Start with that. The narrower you define it the better chance you will find a successful solution.
    • It will take experimentation so plan on a pilot.
    • AI solutions are not like buying a CRM or Cyber Security software. Typically it is not an off the shelf product that you install. It comes as a set of tools, great tools for sure but still tools. If you're not handy the best plumbing tool set will not help you repair your plumbing.
    • AI takes a lot of training data. Do you have it or can get it?
    • What concrete measurements you will use to determine its ROI potential? Increasing revenue if you're considering a product recommender, greater customer handling capacity if you're planning a chatbot for your service desk, etc.

Key questions you should be asking of vendors. 

The list of questions depends on your industry and application of AI you envision for your business. We provide more specific questions in tutorials covering these topics. Here are some that appear universally:

    • What business improvement can I expect? Do you have any data to back your claim?
    • How much data and in what format do I need to train your system?
    • Is there training data I can buy?
    • How much time and cost to deploy a Pilot?
    • What internal expertise do I need to deploy and maintain the system? Given that AI is new, updates and changes are likely to be frequent.

Lot of vendors and not much information.  

You'd be hard pressed to get answers to these basic questions by visiting a vendor Web site. They mostly offer marketing fluff and want you to register so that their sales people contact you to discuss your need. This is understandable as the topic of AI is new, complex and they want to make sure their product fits your need.  

However given the large number of AI vendors in the market today, its impractical to talk to all of them and deal with their persistent sales people. Shortlisting the most suitable AI solution today is nearly an impossible task.

How to tackle the search for solutions 

Instead of searching the Internet, visiting and reading vendor websites or talking to their persistent sales people why not describe your business need or interest, publish it and let the vendors come to you with their best proposals. If you did that however, your phone would ring off the hook and you would be listening to all kinds of qualified and unqualified sales pitches. You would waste a lot of time and not necessarily find a solution. 

We came up with a better way. We created a portal ( where you can do that, stay anonymous, communicate with vendors that look promising on your terms and without being hassled. Most importantly, you can determine quickly if there is something you like or not.

It works as follows: 

    • You describe your business needs
    • List benefits you expect
    • Submit it and we'll publish it anonymously
    • We invite all the relevant vendors
    • You communicate directly with vendors who respond
    • Remain anonymous as long as you wish
    • Once you find something take the conversation off -line.
    • It is like a dating service.
    • It is free

We are unbiased, don't feature or promote any vendor. We ask all the relevant vendors to look at your project and come up with a proposal.

Stay informed.

We track the news, reports and tutorials on AI deployment in variety of industries. You can visit us to stay informed.