Big data and artificial intelligence… welcome to the future
The year is 2035; I walk into the mega Lagos central mall in the heart of the city. A human-sized robot greets me with a warm handshake at the front door, and with a very distinct voice says, “Hello Mr. Bayo, welcome to another day of great shopping experience. The last time we saw you were at our Ikeja branch. Welcome to the Lekki branch and it is my pleasure to help you navigate through this mall, being your first time here.
In addition, I will be recommending a special bouquet of 10 different attractive offers for you.” Using a feminine voice of my favourite actress from a movie I watched last night, the robot has become my in-store salesperson, offering me personalised “robotic selling”.
A cursory look at the robot‘s special bouquet included a package of ten different attractive offers that reflected my very personal preferences based on my shopping habits and personal information. It reminds me that my son’s birthday is only four days away; my car insurance is due for renewal in nine days and an intrusive fact that the weather where I live has fluctuated from 32 to 27 degrees. The robot had simply replaced the human presence. Welcome to the future.
Imagine a Nigeria where you walk into a shopping mall, and a robot greets, after the exchange of pleasantries and swift conversation, tells you to proceed to table 20 to pick up your ‘items.’ Then you pick the items and just when you are wondering how to proceed, the robot moves to the payment desk where you were attended to and told by yet another robot that your open-banking enabled fintech has just approved an interest-free overdraft over a six-month period for you if you accept their special day offer.
While you are taking in all of that, your robot-friend reminded you of how best to move your “goods” home. The robot says, “ To make it easier for you, I am offering to move the perishables and the few items that you may need today to the trunk of your car with the rest delivered via either Amazon drone delivery or DHL robot delivery. What would your reaction be?
You may be tempted to think that this is just some potential scenes from a Sci-fi movie of the future. Unfortunately, it is a possibility waiting to happen. Some big data and artificial intelligence-driven initiatives are already re-shaping lives across the globe and even right here in Africa. From much-needed health-related initiatives to agro-business data-driven projects, lives are being saved, re-shaped and re-aligned with the technological realities of the future.
A few weeks ago, MTN further disrupted Africa’s Mobile Money space with the launch of the continent’s first chatbot- an artificial intelligence-inspired customer engagement interface that simplifies and enhances the quality of customers experience. The chatbot is an artificial intelligence guide that assists users to navigate MTN’s MoMo services and provide other useful information. This innovation leverages messaging and artificial intelligence to drive customer engagement and enhance their MTN MoMo experience. The ‘chatbot’ went live in Ivory Coast in May 2019 and will roll out across MTN’s footprints in the next few months.
With a drive to remain in the forefront of innovative solutions, the company is harnessing modern technologies like AI to improve customer interaction and improve accessibility anytime, anywhere through a variety of channels including social networks and messaging applications. The company’s mobile money ‘assistant’ enables customers to engage with MTN’s MoMo services, including payments on various social media platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger and via SMS. The service will also be included over time in MTN’s own newly released advanced instant messaging service ‘Ayoba.
Our world is evolving, and the progress powered by human’s continuous quest for better ways of doing things, which in turn is leading to better, longer lives.
We are at a point in time that we can no longer see these technological changes as ‘job killers’ or human replacement machines. Imagine a world without smartphones. Better still; imagine if we still rely on camera ‘films’ to take pictures? Can you still relate with the days of the Nigerian Television Authority’s 4:00 pm to 11:30 pm television broadcast for news, entertainment and sports updates? Do you still remember the days of sending hard copy resumes via the post office for that job opportunity?
These questions are a reminder of how much technology will continue to drive -human progress. Today, everyone with a mobile phone can take pictures, store and post the images to social media sites from anywhere. With data on your phone, you can watch that ‘Breaking News’ on the go navigate through traffic via geospatial/GPS plus artificial intelligence enabled app, and get the cheapest flight and hotel rates for your next family vacation.
From health to agriculture, engineering to hospitality, big data, and artificial intelligence are re-shaping the decision-making process across board. We are gradually embracing the era of AI-inspired book writing.
In Japan, an AI-written novel just made it past the first round of screening for a national literary prize while China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency has launched an artificial intelligence (AI) anchor – a 24/7 ‘tireless’ news readers which can simulate the voice, facial movements, and gestures of real-life broadcasters. Therefore, instead of devoting months, and in some cases, years, to pen that great book, AI can make it happen faster by saving time, money and useful person-hours.
Big data is not a fad that would fade away anytime soon. Instead, it is growing bigger as humans increase digital footprints, and the appetite for better ways of research continues to increase. Humanity has come a long way from the Stone Age and it only gets better. There is already a visible presence of artificial intelligence in our lives. Uber has redefined cab-hailing business for good. Airbnb has no single brick anywhere but it is facilitating ‘hospitality’ for millions across the globe. The future is data, it is artificial intelligence and my dream of 2035 may happen even much earlier.
Adekanbi, chief transformation officer, MTN Nigeria Communications Plc.
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