AI is not some mind-boggling tech concept far removed from reality... or everyday uses. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

The mention of Artificial Intelligence (AI) often sparks images of big-scale government projects or exclusive cutting-edge applications that are the reserve of elite businesses. A science fiction image, propagated by Hollywood movies of robots and complex computer systems, further adds to the impression that AI is a technology only available in the distant future to a select few.

However, AI is already here, and we are all frequently interacting with it. For example, the flow of traffic in inner cities is often assessed and re-directed based on data analysed and modelled with the help of AI. Similarly, AI is integrated in buildings and workplaces; for example, Bee’ah’s new Sharjah HQ is the first fully-integrated artificial intelligence powered office building in the Middle East.

The smart building regulates everything, from the flow of people into the building to the efficient use of water and electricity through intelligent algorithms.

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Not spectators

Crucially, AI is not only within reach for small businesses, it has the potential to have a significant impact on their profitability and save costs, by taking over mundane tasks and allowing workers to focus on more high value tasks. For example, the technology can power cybersecurity, customer relationship management (CRM), and customer services.

Even a small and low-tech business may be exposed to digital threats through third-parties. AI security programmes look for unusual activity or irregularities in other systems - like inventory and accounting – and thus helping keep businesses of all sizes safe and secure.

CRM software can help businesses learn about their customers: with each order, it can understand what they need and how they interact with the business. For example, a florist shop with a website can teach the site how to respond if a customer searches for “red flowers.” The software can be trained to show the customer roses, tulips or Gerbera daisies, or take into account the seasons and proactively suggest custom Christmas wreaths.

Accessible everywhere

AI is within reach for regular working areas including warehouses and factory floors, where it is helping customers prevent accidents by using computer vision to scan thousands of videos for potential risks, and then using that information to improve safety. In customer service centers, new tools from Dynamics 365 AI automatically provide helpful answers to customers’ most common questions, freeing up customer service agents to work on more complex issues.

AI is even being utilised for one of the areas least known for technology: small- scale farming. Microsoft’s Azure FarmBeats enables data-driven farming to maximize agricultural output for small scale farms in India and Africa.

With data visualization, machine learning and data analytics, automated recommendations are provided enabling growers to calibrate water usage and soil quality, contributing to more sustainable food production.

Engage, empower

Making AI accessible and affordable for all is part of Microsoft’s mission to enable all people and organizations to achieve more. Our roadmap to make this mission a reality focuses on four pillars. Firstly, AI is engaging customers, building tailored experiences by harnessing data representing a complete picture then delivering personalization at scale.

Secondly, the technology is empowering employees, designing a workplace that harnesses digital intelligence to improve the working environment, while keeping organizations, people and information secure.

Thirdly, the roadmap to digital transformation applies to AI by optimizing operations, modernizing portfolios, transforming processes and skills. This accelerates business responsiveness, improving service levels, and reducing costs.

Fourth, AI is transforming products – innovating products and business models, delivering personalisation to customers and new business models services, products, and experiences. We believe that AI will be the defining technology of our time.

Like the discovery of electricity or the development of the steam engine, we believe it will have the power to fundamentally change people’s lives, transforming industry and transforming society. In this manner, the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be much like those that proceeded it, whereas the technology moves through society, becomes increasingly accessible and transformational for all, and eventually establishes itself as part of a regular business set up.

- Ihsan Anabtawi, Chief Operating and Marketing Officer at Microsoft UAE.