Computers that can play games better than humans are nothing new, and yet they still get a lot of attention. After all, they make for fun stories, challenge researchers and elicit some existential questions about just how smart we really are. However, for the purposes of applied artificial intelligence, I think the discussion about these systems often doesn’t go far enough.
I—and I assume a lot of CIO types—would like to know how reinforcement learning, for example, applies beyond defeating human champions at the game of Go. Particularly, it would be interesting to know how these types of algorithms might apply to some tough business problems. If you think hard enough you’ll conjure up some ideas but, frankly, most people don’t have the time to dwell on the subject, much less the expertise to start building anything.
The risk here is that despite some apparently revolutionary technologies, their actual applications beyond playing games or improving things at companies like Google and Facebook could be quite limited. We could find ourselves stuck trying to solve many of the same enterprise problems as we were 10 years ago—fraud detection, sales optimization, recommendations, etc.—simply due to lack of imagination. Don’t get me wrong: Those are big and important problems and we should use AI to solve them if we can, but there have to be some optimal use cases for AI should that are different than the optimal use cases for the first iteration of big data.
It’s a tricky proposition because the toughest business situations are rarely as black and white as games, with their clearly defined rules and often obvious reward/penalty outcomes. And they probably can’t be solved with computer vision or voice recognition alone. But if smart entrepreneurs are willing to engage with smart business execs to identify and solve some of their toughest—and perhaps untapped—challenges, I’m confident we can see some real progress.
End of rant. Here’s what got me thinking about this:
P.S. Sorry the newsletter was so late today.