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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Putting AI, robotics to work in commerce

Sophia, a humanlike robot powered by sophisticated artificial intelligence (AI), gave a presentation today about the future role of AI. This was at a UBS disruptive technology conference in Hong Kong, not in an episode of the sci-fi TV series Humans, where the distinctions between humans and robots are barely discernable. There is no denying automated technologies are finding real-world applications not only at home, with voice activated virtual assistants, but also increasingly in business environments where digitized customer service has become commonplace.

Modeled after actress Audrey Hepburn, Sophia is the brainchild of former Walt Disney Imagineering Senior Designer Dr. David Hanson, who founded and now serves as Chief Executive Officer of Hanson Robotics Ltd. According to the Hong Kong-based company, the lifelike robots feature patented nanotech skin that closely resembles human skin and proprietary motor control systems that can mimic human emotions.

Commercial applications for robots like Sophia include promoting products and services in retail stores, auto showrooms and banks, as well as guiding customers in hotels or shopping complexes, Hanson noted. To create a truly humanlike interactive experience, each robot comes equipped with Hanson's AI software, MindCloud, which has the capacity to ingest emotional, conversational and visual data.

Bridging virtual with commerce

Another company working to bridge the virtual world with next-generation commercial applications is Alpharetta, Ga.-based Bridge2 Solutions. On Sept. 20, Bridg2 unveiled Points Pal, the first voice-activated experience for rewards programs that is compatible with multiple virtual assistants, according to the company.

The patent-pending program allows reward members from thousands of loyalty and incentive programs to give voice commands to Alexa, Siri, Google Home and other voice recognition platforms to check current rewards point balances, redeem rewards and track loyalty program purchase activities.

To engage the program, users simply say "Open Points Pal." Actions can then be completed on the same device or on another device, such as a mobile phone or tablet device, the company noted.

"Points Pal future enhancements will include streamlining the voice commands to deliver the equivalent of a 'one-click purchase' and having the voice activated devices present personalized recommendations based on prior purchase behavior with rewards currencies," said Larry Wine, Chief Commercial Officer at Bridge2.

Where are we headed with this?

As technology accelerates, human displacement by automation has raised concerns, especially in business sectors, such as banking, where downsizing has already occurred. Research by McKinsey & Co. has shown that technologies could automate 45 percent of the activities people are paid to perform and that about 60 percent of all occupations could automate 30 percent or more of their constituent activities. However, there is an economic upside to automation. Based on scenario modeling, McKinsey estimates automation could raise productivity growth globally by 0.8 to 1.4 percent annually.

A McKinsey chart titled The technical feasibility for automation in the U.S. illustrates the market potential for automation in various industries. In a footnote, it mentions five factors involved with the adoption of automated processes: technical feasibility; costs to automate; the relative scarcity, skills and cost of workers who could perform the activity; benefits of automation beyond labor-cost substitution; and regulatory and social-acceptance considerations. end of article

Editor's Note:

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