In this month’s new column, Tanya Hemphill from Ti22 Digital (www.Ti22Digital.co.uk), a strategic digital marketing consulting and training company, reports on the latest developments in technology and the implications they have for business.
The North’s Digital Economy
Three interesting reports have been recently published about the digital economy and its impact on our economy. A recent Tech Nation 2017 report highlighted that the digital economy is growing twice as fast as the wider economy, with an estimated turnover of £170 billion.
Manchester was shown to have the fourth highest digital tech turnover in the UK at £2.6bn; it has 62,653 digital jobs and 28% of the 50 fastest growing digital tech companies in the North are in Manchester.
Notable companies in the Cheshire area that have made it onto ‘The Northern Tech 100 League Table’ include: Trak Global Group, a telecoms service company based in Crewe; Tyres on the Drive based in Holmes Chapel; Currentbody.com based in Cheadle; The Hut Group in Northwich, Zuto in Macclesfield and Chess in Alderley Edge.
Despite the huge potential for businesses operating in the digital arena (including those who are changing their business models to include digital), companies are being hindered by skills gaps.
In April, a British Chambers of Commerce report announced that more than 75% of businesses face a digital skills shortage, which means that existing staff have an increased workload.
On a more local level, the Manchester Digital Skills Audit Report 2017 found that 20% of businesses had turned work away because they were unable to find the right talent.
Unfortunately, the ongoing issue of the lack of women in tech roles is still prevalent – Manchester Digital found that the male to female spilt in technical roles was 88:12 and nearly half of all survey respondents said their tech teams were 100% male.
The Government have put various plans in place to try and combat these issues but most of them are longer term solutions. We are interested to hear what InCheshire & Prestbury Living readers think about this issue – please Tweet your views to @InCheshireMag and @DigitalTanya (the author’s Twitter handle).
The Growth of Artificial Intelligence (AI)
This year has seen a lot of discussion around artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).
Basically, AI is a broader concept of machines carrying out tasks in a way that we would deem ‘smart’ and machine learning is an application of AI, which works on the premise that we can give machines access to data and let them learn for themselves.
One area of AI that has recently been used to develop some exciting innovations is Natural Language Processing (NLP), which links to the idea that we should be able to communicate and interact with electronic devices and digital information as naturally as we would with another human.
Sounds good in theory but this is much harder to make work in practice; for example, some large companies are using AI to automatically respond to Tweets. However, the main issue with this is that AI is (yet) unable to determine sarcasm…the following AmericanAir Tweet is a prime example of this:
One of the more recent advancements in this technology is the launch of IBM Watson – a language-fluent super computer. It can absorb and analyse vast quantities of data and learn from it – so much so that 6 years ago, it had ‘learned’ the same amount of knowledge as an average second-year medical student.
Since then, medical experts have been teaching Watson how to understand and gather complex medical papers relating to oncology. The computer was reported (in 2013) to have stored more than 600,000 pieces of medical evidence, more than 2 million pages from medical journals and could search up to 1.5 million patient records for further information.
What does this mean?
It’s likely to disrupt the medical market because Watson is better at diagnosing cancer than human doctors.
Watson is also being used by businesses – an AI partnership between the IBM platform and customer relationship management (CRM) company Salesforce means that retailers can combine things like local shopping patterns, weather and retail data, with customer-specific shopping data and preferences from Salesforce’s Einstein so that they can automatically send highly personalised and localised email campaigns to shoppers.
A lot of different industries are using Watson – it’s also starting to expand into law firms with the launch of ‘ROSS’, the world’s first artificially intelligent attorney. Lawyers can ask ROSS questions in their ‘natural language’ – i.e. as if they are talking to a colleague, and the AI reads through the law, gathers evidence, draws inferences and returns a relevant, evidence-based answer. In the (not so distant) future, the role of a legal research assistant might completely vanish…
AI is no longer the domain of large businesses – it is also becoming an increasing part of our everyday lives.
A few years ago, Google’s ‘Nest’ made its way into our homes – the ‘learning thermostat’ that automatically adapts to your personal schedule and programs itself after a week of usage (i.e. it turns the heating down when you go to bed and, via sensors and your mobile phone location, it knows when you go to work and sets itself to save energy, etc.).
More recently, Amazon Echo and Google Home have been launched in the UK – ‘voice assistants’ that connect different aspects of your life. These speakers can answer voice questions, make to-do-lists, check your calendar, provide information in real time – such as weather and traffic information, etc.
Once again, there have been a few teething problems; for example, Amazon Echo is programmed to respond to voice commands whenever it hears the word ‘Alexa’.
Last year, a newsreader in San Diego reported that a young girl had bought a doll’s house by talking to the speaker and said ‘Alexa, order me a dolls house’ on air – afterwards viewers reported that their own Amazon Echo devices heard the voice command and bought them doll’s houses too! Be warned!
Finally, there’s a bit of a Google theme here…last year the tech giant launched their AI messaging app ‘Google Allo’. The platform is a bit like WhatsApp but Google Assistant can add information into user’s conversations with friends – i.e. recommend nearby restaurants / movies, find directions, help answer questions, etc.
Obviously, this provides exciting opportunities for businesses who want to provide personalised information to individuals using private messaging apps (I see it as Google Adwords on steroids).
This discussion brings me nicely onto introducing one of next month’s topics – dark social.
In the meantime, I doubt that you will watch TV shows with AI storylines such as Westword, Humans, Person of Interest, etc., in the same way again!