Machines to take over industry

Machines to take over industry

Artificial intelligence to play a larger role in consumers' lives through chatbots, IoT and marketing, writes Suchit Leesa-Nguansuk

McKinsey says the sectors of high-tech, telecom and financial services are the leading AI adopters and have the most ambitious AI investment plans. Photo courtesy of alamy
McKinsey says the sectors of high-tech, telecom and financial services are the leading AI adopters and have the most ambitious AI investment plans. Photo courtesy of alamy

Artificial intelligence (AI) technology in Thailand is likely to evolve this year through use in chatbots, image processing, the Internet of Things (IoT), marketing, and even medical procedures, say industry analysts.

Chatbots are the first step for consumers to understand the real-life benefits of AI for language-based communication channels with businesses.

Image processing software can adopt AI to deploy surveillance systems such as CCTVs for smart city functions and smart grids for energy management. In healthcare, AI can help radiologists perform and analyse medical scans.

Chatbots will offer customer support and become digital marketing tools for brands, say local AI enthusiasts.

AI refers to a machine’s ability to imitate human cognitive skills.

"AI will gradually become part of human life and become totally embedded within 10 years," says Thanaruk Theeramunkong, president of the Artificial Intelligence Association of Thailand, a two-year-old community of AI researchers and developers.

AI Bangkok has at least 500 members.

AI refers to a machine's ability to imitate human cognitive skills, which can be applied to various fields. Currently, most AI functions are for specialised tasks.

"General AI" refers to machines capable of performing joint intellectual tasks that humans perform and have the ability to learn the tasks required in every field.

Chatbots have been the first step for consumers to understand the real-life benefits of AI.

AI can manipulate Internet of Things devices to control and manage connected devices that have sensors, turning on electrical appliances and controlling schedules for sprinklers.

In the field of image processing, AI can be applied to detect power levels. The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand uses AI technology to detect solar panel activity for energy management while the Provincial Electricity Authority uses AI to evaluate electricity demand, as well as for facial recognition and CCTV surveillance.

AI in robotics can be used for surgeries. Some human professions such as brokers, accountants and call centre agents can eventually be replaced by AI.

Smart homes that have connected home appliances and gateways can manage their own energy and generate reports to forecast demand, allowing for more effective cost management.

"Thailand can create opportunities through real-world AI applications that allow developers and researchers to innovate for domestic utilisation," said Mr Thanaruk.

There are many resources for developers to use such as GitHub, which is a development platform that allows users to host and review code, manage projects, and build software alongside millions of other developers in various programming languages, including Python, considered by many easy for coding.

Touchapon Kraisingkorn, chief technology officer and co-founder of ConvoLab, a startup focusing on AI-powered chatbots, said the use of AI is more prevalent in businesses.

In Thailand, some sectors are moving to develop AI. Banking has seen the most widespread adoption of AI, with SCB Abacus being the first to advance an AI-based spin-off firm in the financial industry.

Chatbots are often the first introduction to AI for the public, communicating with brands and business as they became more widely used last year.

"I expect in 2018 chatbots will become more accepted," said Mr Touchapon.

In the past year, customers have seen tangible results from interacting with chatbots.

Firms can offload 60% of the workload from their agents, with an average correct answer rate of 80%, he said.

Last year, early adopters such as banks and insurance companies used chatbots for sales and support. This year, the adoption will become broader as many brands are expected to use chatbots in marketing.

Chatbots can be personalised communication channels for businesses.

Inbound marketing can be carried out through chatbots to understand customer needs and provide information that suits customers who wish to contact companies.

Complex queries that chatbots cannot handle are passed on to agents, allowing humans to work alongside chatbots.

AI companies such as ConvoLab can offer a complete vertical chat management system, covering sales, support and marketing for specific sectors such as banking, insurance and fast-moving consumer goods.

A global survey found 63% of customers are willing to contact businesses via chat and 50% are willing to ask complex and financial-related questions via chat. Data from chatbots can also be analysed for predictions.

By the second quarter of this year, ConvoLab aims to offer its chatbots to the mass market. Voicebots may be further down the road as the technology does not seem to be compatible with Thais' behaviour.

Mr Touchapon is also an AI Bangkok member, with an interest in AI communities around the world.

Supachai Parchariyanon, group chief executive of digital agency MCFIVA, said brands and businesses should not adopt chatbots as a technological trend, but should focus on customer pain points and experience.

"Brands can leverage big data from chatbot conversations and analyse complete data sets to predict customer trends and demand, then offer products and services based on each preference," said Mr Supachai.

Online real-time data with analytics can pave the way for daily promotions, not just monthly cycles, he said.

"The winning company is the one that can turn customer data into a weapon for their business," said Mr Supachai.

Chatbots are gaining popularity as the country nears 150% mobile penetration and Thais like communication via chat, evident from the popularity of Line and Facebook.

He said in developed countries, consumers can order and pay for pizza completely via chatbot, without any human intervention.

Another example is users having voice conversations with airline call centres and automatically routing calls to specific agents to reduce customer wait time.

Apart from chatbots, Mr Supachai expects AI-based marketing to be another trend this year.

Marketing automation through users' emails will allow them to continue their online shopping even if they leave the site before completing a transaction payment, he said.

"Marketers need to be more sophisticated in designing the customer experience to be able to fully reap the benefits of automated marketing," said Mr Supachai.

According to global research and consulting firm McKinsey, the sectors of high-tech, telecom and financial services are the leading AI adopters and have the most ambitious AI investment plans. These businesses use multiple technologies for multiple functions, even their core function, in deploying AI.

Automakers, for example, use AI to improve their operations as well as develop self-driving vehicles, while financial services companies use AI for customer experience functions.

As these firms expand AI adoption and acquire more data, laggards will find it harder to catch up.

Dhanawat Suthumpun, managing director of Microsoft Thailand, said with the increasing use of cloud computing, up-and-coming technologies such as AI and the IoT will grow in capability and accessibility, leading people towards the "era of autonomy" -- when intelligent machines can sensibly and almost independently support and enhance human ingenuity.

The development of these advances has already led to everyday tools that are smarter and more efficient than ever, providing users with information when and how they want it -- from web searches to intelligent assistants to workplace productivity.

"Throughout this year, we will see AI and data science innovations expand into new territories, from more creative solutions for routine tasks to far-reaching achievements such as allowing machines to better comprehend things like ethics or human emotion," said Mr Dhanawat.

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