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AI (Artificial Intelligence) Washing is the current attempt to imbue the latest, coolest buzz term into old school products and services. So, buyers beware – we’ll probably need to endure this for a couple of more years.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) – the term conjures up feelings on a spectrum from awe to those of dread. Imagine: machines intelligent enough to relieve us of many of the mundane tasks of everyday life or give us wonderful capabilities like instant simultaneous translations. Or perhaps, they’ll relieve us of our everyday jobs, then what – all but a few of us are on welfare? How about the ultimate dystopia: the machine rule over us. Think Skynet and the Terminator.

Yep, AI is definitely in the news and it seems no one is without an opinion. What happens when a technology with this much associated hype emerges? Old school products and services, even the most mundane, attempt to wrap themselves in it to get the halo effect.

It has happened before and it’s bound to happen in the future. It wasn’t that long ago that I was counseling clients to beware of cloud washing (which still continues). Now organizations are beginning to realize that superior customer experiences underpinned by successful digital strategies, including embracing AI, demonstrate superior returns. Their traditional vendors are terrified of being left out and left behind. For the organization that can’t keep up, the strategy is beat the drum.

AI references in earning’s calls by public companies have skyrocketed. As tweeted by Michael McDonough, global director of economic research and chief economist, Bloomberg Intelligence, the number of mentions of artificial intelligence on earnings calls has exploded since mid-2014:

Cone on! AI is hard to do. Companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, etc. spend billions developing it and they’re just scratching the surface and not always successfully (talk to Siri or Alexa lately?). True machine learning takes lots and lots of data for the machine to train upon. Not every company has access to these sorts of data sets or the talent to develop the machines.

Instead, we get tiny steps with big labels. The latest (and if I may say, ironic) example is the AI washing machines by LG. Miele and Samsung have them too. You know what the AI is? It measures the amount of water and weight of the load and doses the proportionally right amount of detergent. Yep, that’s it. Pretty prosaic isn’t it but wrapped in the hype of AI.

There may be relief in sight but it’s going to take a while. Andreessen Horowitz partner Frank Chen is probably correct to posit that we’re just two years away from VCs no longer investing in AI startups. Or, more accurately, we’re two years from an end to the silly AI washing that currently inundates industry. What he means is that in a couple of years VC’s will assume that any startup worth their investment is of course using the best AI available to them.

Even today developers can embed the latest state of the art, but still primitive, AI like speech recognition into their programs. AI will eventually undergo what any technology that becomes ubiquitous does. It disappears into to the background. Face it, how excited are you that your life is powered by electricity. Or, that the smartphone you carry is really a supercomputer connected to vast oceans of computing power called “the cloud”.

In the meantime, Caveat Emptor! Remember all those dying companies struggling for your business by selling what they call “private cloud”. It will be the same with AI.

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