Think tank’s new task force will forecast AI’s challenges

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Alexa's creepy laugh will probably be the least of our artificial intelligence worries. To properly understand the challenges that AI will bring, defense and foreign policy think tank Center for a New American Security (CNAS) has established a task f…
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AI’s Role in Driving the Sales Experience

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Much has been made of AI’s role in serving customers, and AI-supported smart devices have invaded homes everywhere — Amazon’s Alexa was even used to order millions more Alexas as Christmas presents in 2017. Artificial intelligence is embedding itself in our technology-obsessed culture, but not every industry has taken advantage of AI’s utility.

Adam Honig and his co-founders at Spiro saw an opening to use AI to drive the sales experience. Businesses utilize CRMs to compile and track the data needed to support ongoing sales efforts and pinpoint new sales opportunities. But Honig, the CEO of Spiro, says that many companies aren’t getting the data they need from these platforms — they aren’t used correctly, fully, or consistently, meaning the information these sales teams are working from is skewed.

Spiro is an AI-driven CRM, complete with a conversational email interface, or an email bot, that utilizes existing data — from salespeople’s calendars, emails, and more — to lay out a schedule or to-do list for a salesperson and anticipate next moves. The AI function can process existing information more quickly than humans poring over spreadsheets can, empowering the CRM to predict how many follow-ups it may take — and what format will be most effective — to close a deal.

But that’s not where Spiro sees AI’s intersection with the sales experience ending.

How a People-Driven Industry Benefits From AI

It’s well-known that AI can process data better than humans can — a Massachusetts Institute of Technology startup’s software developed stronger predictive models than the majority of its human competitors did, and some predict that AI will be better than us at everything by 2060. But even then, there are limits: Eleni Vasilaki of the University of Sheffield says there’s “little evidence that AI with human-like versatility will appear any time soon.”

That’s what confounds many: How could an industry fueled by personal relationships, charisma, and camaraderie be driven by AI? Sales is surely a people-driven arena, but it’s already focused on tracking metrics and moving the needle by predicting human behavior. Honig and his co-founders realized, through their CRM work with more than 3,000 companies, that the problem lies in the data being gathered.

“To say that salespeople hate CRM is an understatement; most consider it a soul-sucking beast of burden that doesn’t add any value to their sales life,” Honig says. “We knew that salespeople desperately needed a CRM that would help them make more money, not give them more work. When I saw the movie ‘Her,’ I realized that the new AI technologies that were emerging would be perfect to automate non-sales tasks so they could focus on selling.”

Is This the End of Sales as We Know It?

Beyond increasing productivity and efficiency, automation can relieve salespeople from manual tasks, freeing them up for more high-level strategic efforts. Though many predict that AI will lead to mass unemployment as human beings are relieved of their duties, AI is designed to elevate the skill sets needed in each industry so complex, nuanced problems with big implications are solved by humans who will have to absorb those outcomes.

That’s why Honig believes AI will augment, not replace, salespeople. “In some ways, AI is already replacing salespeople at a fast pace,” he says. “’s AI algorithms make specific purchase recommendations and provide a high level of service that’s hard for retail salespeople to match.”

What that means is that to compete, salespeople selling to businesses have to be prepared to embrace solutions that make them more effective with customers. “In practice, this means using AI solutions to do things that technology can do better, like entering data, and let them focus on the things that people do better, like building rapport and really understanding the needs of a customer,” Honig explains.

The Productive Path Forward

The biggest benefit AI may offer to the sales process is its data-gathering capabilities. Whereas some salespeople operate from instinct or their “gut feeling” about a customer and his needs, sales is often now held to the same standard and expectation of ROI as most marketers and advertisers. Without numbers, it’s hard to maintain a budget, commission, or even a permanent position.

Despite this need for hard data, many sales departments track information haphazardly, failing to record final contract numbers in a database or neglecting to indicate how many touchpoints a lead went through before finding his way to the bottom of the sales funnel. That lack of information may not impact that specific sales process, but it can alter an entire team’s goals and predictions. AI-driven platforms like Spiro can grab the data where it’s buried and build their own reports, adding a layer of analysis and interpretation for human reviewers. Honig says Spiro’s reports have been shown to contain eight times more data than regular CRM reports, underscoring the power of AI.

The other side of AI’s productivity can be seen in its ability to look at an overview of a person’s behavior, add context, and predict future actions. “Imagine if your CRM could advise you who you should call and follow up with to drive all your leads and deals forward,” Honig says. “That’s what we do. Spiro uses a machine learning algorithm that was trained by more than 15,000 salespeople to identify the best times for follow-up, the best email templates to be used, and the best contacts to focus on.”

Thanks to these insights, Spiro’s customers have indicated they reach up to 47 percent more prospects each week. A big factor in reaching more customers is having the AI predict which prospects won’t close so salespeople can focus on others. Human hope makes it hard for sales professionals to shut down a potential source of income when they can’t see where the road ends.

“Artificial intelligence will do more and more for salespeople,” Honig says. “Beyond advising them who to call and follow up with, it will automatically identify similar prospects and suggest that salespeople call them. It will listen in on sales calls and provide real-time feedback to help make the pitch even better. It will learn from emails, calendar appointments, and phone calls to craft specific proposals based on what’s already happened.”

In other words, Honig predicts AI will become salespeople’s constant companion, designed to help them make more money. Sales may be a people-driven industry, but AI is on a path to ensure it values data as much as instincts.

The post AI’s Role in Driving the Sales Experience appeared first on ReadWrite.


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IBM’s Watson is AI’s greatest ambassador

When I heard the 60th annual Grammy Awards show was going to feature artificial intelligence, I immediately thought “this is a marketing ploy.” But then I found out IBM’s Watson was the AI in question. Watson, you see, doesn’t have a problem rolling up its non-existent sleeves and doing some good old fashioned hard work. Don’t expect a silly robot rolling around doing a human impersonation on the red carpet, IBM’s machines show up to solve problems and optimize workflows. And while that isn’t very sexy – hard work seldom is – it’s incredibly important. The chances are pretty good you’ve…

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American public fears AI’s impact on employment, says Syzygy

American public fears AI's impact on employment

Over two-thirds (70 percent) of the American public fear artificial intelligence’s impact on employment, reveals a new study from digital company Syzygy.

The impact of AI on our day-to-day lives has been a hot topic in IoT news of late. The wider public are aware that AI, robotics and automation are combining to shake up the world in which we live.

These are justifiable concerns that tabloid newspapers love to feed, with proclamations that the rise of robotics signals the end of humanity – especially when the likes of Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk weigh in on the subject.

It’s important, therefore, that a more considered discourse takes place, which measures and responds to public concerns and questions, as well as taking steps to protect the people and economies affected by emerging technologies, when necessary.

A report from digital agency Syzygy, led by Dr Paul Marsden, has gauged the prevailing attitudes of the American people, in a paper titled Sex, Lies and A.I.

In an attempt to clarify a term that marketing has rendered virtually meaningless, Syzygy defines AI simply as, “technology that behaves intelligently, using skills we normally associate with human intelligence, including the ability to hold conversations, learn, reason and solve problems”.

Read more: Opinion divided on impact of AI on jobs market, says BT survey

AI hopes & fears

Most of the participants appear open to AI playing a greater role in their lives, particularly in how they interact with businesses and brands – with over two thirds accepting the idea. However, there is widespread scepticism about the benefits of AI technology, with 88 percent of Americans believing that AI in marketing should be regulated by an ethical code of conduct.

The report concludes that businesses employing automated solutions must communicate the practical and personal benefits of AI, stressing how it will make people’s lives easier.

This comes with the caveat that we want to know when an AI is being used. Eighty-seven percent of the American public supports a new ‘Blade Runner law’ that makes it illegal for AI applications such as social media bots, chatbots and virtual assistants to conceal their identity and pose as humans.

This is despite the fact that we generally prefer AIs to reflect human emotions and appearances. ‘Conscientiousness’ was elected the most important personality trait for an AI application, conveying the sense of dependability, dutifulness and efficiency.

According to the report, the emotions evoked by AI are mixed – the most dominant being: ‘interested’ (45 percent), ‘concerned’ (41 percent) and ‘skeptical’ (40 percent). Many people (52 percent) in the US believe AI technology is already influencing their lives; 41 percent remember seeing AI in the media in the last month; and 55 percent use a virtual assistant such as Siri or Alexa.

AI's impact on employment
US public’s greatest AI fears (credit: SYZYGY)

Read more: Lost jobs but happier customers — insurance embraces AI and IoT

AI’s impact on employment

While participants, generally hope that AI will make their lives easier, there are fears that job automation will have repercussions for employment in the US (with 30% labelling it as their top fear). Those surveyed also predict that over one-third (36 percent) of their current job duties could be replace by AI in the next five years.

The report also revealed strong support for ‘LAWS’ – lethal autonomous weapon systems, popularly referred to as ‘killer robots’.

“Seventy-one percent of Americans believe that this AI technology should be permitted in armed conflict. This US sentiment stands in stark contrast to the call for an outright ban on these weapons by Elon Musk, Neuralink CEO and chairman of OpenAI, along with over 100 leaders in AI research.”

The American public seems generally open to the adoption of AI in their day to day lives. However, the report highlights the desire for greater regulation and transparency in how artificial intelligence is employed by businesses, particularly when it comes to the potential for AI to mislead and manipulate. This feeling of helplessness is epitomised in the participants fears around AI’s impact on employment.

Read more: Research reveals potential dangers of ‘prejudiced’ AI

The ethical challenges of AI

Even when we accept emerging AI technologies, difficult ethical questions remain. The survey raises a moral conundrum that has been increasingly debated since the advent of autonomous cars: how should the AI react in the split seconds before an accident? Syzygy’s report presents the dilemma like this:

“The autonomous vehicle rounds a corner and detects a crosswalk full of children. It brakes, but your lane is unexpectedly full of sand from a recent rock slide. It can’t get traction. Your car does some calculations: If it continues braking, it will almost certainly kill five children. The only way to save them is to steer you off the cliff to your certain death. What should the car do?”

It’s a difficult moral position and any answer will need to be pre-programmed into the vehicle. Mercedes-Benz execute Chistoph von Hugo revealed to Fortune Magazine last year that it’s autonomous cars will save the car’s drivers and passengers, even at the expense of pedestrians’ lives.

Given that only 30 percent of Americans would travel in a car programmed to minimize fatalities, even at the expense of its own passengers, it’s a seemingly impossible marketing situation. Yet these are the sorts of questions that businesses must answer if they are to provide the clarity the American public is demanding and reassure them that a future with AI is one that stands to benefit humankind more widely than they fear.

The post American public fears AI’s impact on employment, says Syzygy appeared first on Internet of Business.

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AI’s Place in Marketing : It’s a Competition Or a Collaboration?

Students of marketing are worried. They fear that they will already have been replaced by the time they graduate and look for career positions. And some of this fear is warranted, of course. AI has become the new “darling” of marketing, as an ever-increasing number of uses keep being discovered. But, the picture is not as bleak as marketing students may be painting. What marketers need to understand is that AI can relieve them of all of the mundane manual tasks, provide them with amazing insights, and allow them to spend time on the creative aspects of their jobs. Exactly…

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