Beware Artificial Intelligence Snake Oil

Clark Stanley's Snake Oil (Source Wikipedia)
Clark Stanley’s Snake Oil (Source Wikipedia)

Business Owners! Have you got an Internet Strategy? A Mobile Strategy? A Cloud Strategy? A Social Media Strategy?

That’s a lot of strategies to think about. Now, those responsible for business strategy are also being encouraged to have an Artificial Intelligence Strategy. No doubt there will soon be a consultant with a new job title to help: the Artificial Intelligence Strategist.

It is prudent as a business owner to be aware of what’s happening in the AI field so that if you come across something, you can evaluate it and it’s impact on your business.

As with any new area of technology, there will be lots of different things which will be labelled as AI, but won’t really be. In fact, most of what passes for AI today, isn’t really intelligent at all either.

Take Machine Learning as an example. The term itself is misleading in that it seems to indicate that the machine (more likely the computer) is learning something the way that people do. In fact, that’s not happening at all. Machine learning is mostly very clever algorithms that are adept at picking out patterns in noisy data. These patterns can be used to make predictions about other data, with a high degree of accuracy. So fundamentally, it’s building a mathematical model based on a set of training data.

I’ve deliberately glossed over how difficult this is in practice. A lot of the success of these techniques is due to the intelligence of the people creating the algorithms.

When you see the term “Artificial Intelligence”, it’s also worth reminding yourself that AI today is an umbrella term for a toolbox of algorithms and techniques. Each technique has it’s own advantages and disadvantages, and a domain to which it is suited.

It is most definitely not a brain in a box that can carry out lots of different functions. That type of AI is still in the realm of science fiction and certain sensationalist areas of the popular press.

If you see someone selling you a product or a service with AI in the title, ask what sort of AI they are talking about. What technique does it use? What tasks will it automate? How will it be trained? How robust is it? How accurate is it? Claims of 100% accuracy are a definite red flag.

AI is definitely worth keeping an eye on due to it’s disruptive potential if you are a business owner, or responsible for strategy. Just watch out for the snake oil.

One thought on “Beware Artificial Intelligence Snake Oil

  1. With the advent of flippy and various robots enabled by machine learning, machine learning seems to be a weak form of AI. Flippy can learn to recognize food. Machine learning enables robots to work in assembly lines along with humans.

    Not very intelligent, but it seems like some sort of AI.

    However, I think you’re right. Most AI products are snake oil. Machine learning is the only type of AI people can trust at this moment.


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