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The Predictive Power of AI

Posted by - Girish Nayak, Chief – Customer Service, Technology and Operations
December 31 2019
Think technology and it’s everywhere. Technology has deeply engrained itself into our personal and professional lives. What more, areas such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) are expected to create the most impact in the next few decades. Not surprisingly, such tools are being increasingly discussed in corporates at the Board level, as companies attempt to harness AI and other new age technologies to improve productivity, bring in efficiency and offer enhanced solutions to customers. Amid these developments, questions such as, will AI replace the labour force are being hotly debated around the globe. However, not everyone sees AI solely from this ‘incremental’ lens.

I have engaged with Prof. Ajay Agarwal at multiple occasions including a recent session spread over 2 days. He is the Professor of Entrepreneurship at Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto. He is also the Co-Author of a book titled ‘Prediction Machines – The Simple Economics of Artificial Intelligence’. The title of his book itself is very intriguing. One hardly speaks about technology in tandem with a field such as Economics. After all, how can a highly technical subject like AI be linked and pursued by Economists? However, Prof Agarwal along with his co-authors Joshua Gans and Avi Goldfarb pursues AI from a unique but focused lens, combining decision theory in economics with advances in prediction technologies like AI.

Further, they see AI as an enabler to human act, be it actions, outcome or most importantly, judgement. Their philosophy of AI complementing the human skill set of judgement presents a unique perspective of how this field can empower us to deliver greater impact, rather than make our skills redundant. Further, the idea of viewing AI as a Prediction tool makes it so much more versatile, to be harnessed across a wide range of industries. both from a near term perspective as well as over the long term. 

Humans have deployed their intelligence to address many problems of the present, as well as, to build solutions for the future. However, the one challenge that we humans face is our ability to predict. In fact, as the quantum of data available multiplies, our capacity to analyse it and forecast outcomes diminishes further. On the other hand, AI supported by an unlimited computational power on the cloud can analyse data faster and better. By looking at AI as a critical ‘Predictor’ component of a Canvas with the other elements complementing it, Prof Agarwal along with his colleagues introduces a more practical and useful perspective of this new age technology.  His viewpoint also enables us to better understand some of the key trade-offs in developing and implementing AI solutions in any industry.

Many businesses including ours have been deploying AI to resolve customer problems faster or to provide more efficient and convenient solutions on a 24x7 basis. However, having come across Prof Agarwal’s thought process, it makes me believe that the current set of AI applications being deployed across industries and geographies is very limited and we have merely touched the tip of the iceberg. At this point, Satya Nadella’s words come to my mind - “I definitely fall into the camp of thinking of AI as augmenting human capability and capacity”.

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