Oh shit! Did I miss the AI bus?

What's really going on with AI? And how is it going to impact NZ businesses?
By Consultant, Voco

The end of 2023 was a professional whirlwind for me, leading a major app cutover and doing the data migration dance for an important client.

But as the year wrapped up and the holiday season kicked in, I finally had some breathing space and a chance to swap out my work to-do list for some quality family time and a bit of leisurely reading.

But being the tech geek I am, it wasn’t long before I jumped into a flood of big tech AI news. And it seemed that while I’d been busy at work, AI had somehow taken over the world!

GPT-4 was strutting its stuff as the thousand pound gorilla in the industry, and everyone was adopting it as their new BFF. Microsoft's Copilot had apparently become my new Office 365 companion! Google was getting serious with Bard (now Gemini), and Amazon was cooking up its own AI magic for the Echo devices that play DJ in every room of my house.

The sheer volume of business commentary about AI made me feel like I’d been asleep at the wheel.  It felt like the tech world had changed around me almost overnight.

Oh shit! Did I miss the AI bus?
Selwyn Rimmer

Concerned consultant!

I tried to reassure myself that AI was just another tech hype train that would eventually run out of steam. But the other side of me was convinced that AI is already among us, silently plotting to replace my job and preparing for the robot takeover threatened in the Terminator movies!

The reality is that AI and Machine Learning are already part of our daily lives, from personalised product recommendations on e-commerce sites to the facial recognition trial in the local supermarket (unless you're actively dodging it, of course).

With a growing sense of curiosity (and professional urgency), I decided to ditch the top 10 novel on my summer reading list and dive deeper into the mysterious world of AI and Machine Learning (ML).

Obviously I had a quick chat with my new mate GPT-4 to work out the best way to learn about this stuff, and together we planned a nerdy adventure – lots of background reading, binge-watching YouTube videos, and maybe even a few free AI trials and introductory courses.

Starting with a crash course in the history of AI and ML courtesy of Pedro Domingos' "The Master Algorithm", I then sprinkled in some YouTube humour with The Royal Institution's take on the future of generative AI - What's the future for generative AI? - The Turing Lectures with Mike Wooldridge.

Turns out AI isn't a shiny new toy; it's actually been around since WWII in various shapes and forms. I was relieved and alarmed in equal measure!

The recent hype is largely down to quantum leaps in performance thanks to a perfect storm of massive training data (otherwise known as the Internet), cheaper computing power, and Large Language Models like GPT-4 flexing their 1.76 trillion parameters.

Logical, right? So maybe we are at a tipping point in the evolution of AI.

AI is slipping seamlessly into existing technologies and platforms without us really noticing.
Selwyn Rimmer

More informed consultant!

Alongside the tech magic, there are a bunch of other factors driving this massive acceleration in the growth and adoption curve:

Firstly, AI and process automation are relevant to almost every sector. Every business is on the look out for more efficient and accurate ways of doing things. And this technology could represent the biggest step change in business efficiency in generations.

Secondly, consumer demand is growing. People expect more personalised and intelligent experiences when they’re buying products or interacting with businesses (and each other).

Thirdly, there's a huge amount of investment pouring in from all angles (public and private sector).

And finally - integration. AI is slipping seamlessly into existing technologies and platforms without us really noticing. Everything from our smart phones to our streaming services and social platforms are being driven by ML and algorithms.

Since there’s nothing quite like learning by doing, I started experimenting with every AI tool I could find.

Chat GPT became my go-to buddy – summarizing New Zealand’s privacy regulations with consummate ease and cooking up delicious Korean BBQ recipes for dinner. I even attempted to create a "fake brother-in-law" to see if it could draft blog posts based on the last 100+ posts my real brother-in-law had created. Two things struck me. First the new content was a bit shit. Second, it was really good at pulling details from those prior posts to simulate tone and style.

The more I experimented, the more I could see real world opportunities for some of Voco’s clients – like getting AI tools to analyse the thousands of millions of messages bouncing around legacy applications, and turning this into genuinely personalised and data-driven chatbot experiences.

But let's not get distracted by the serious stuff. Not when you can use DALL-E to create a profile picture that’s a cross between Kung Fu Panda and a Central Otago publican!

AI’s impact on Business Transformation

AI is not just a tech fad; it's a game-changer for business transformation.

And all joking aside, we’re starting to use AI in a number of innovative ways at Voco - from building Microsoft Power Apps that drive operational efficiency by automating repetitive tasks, to using market leading AI-driven security platforms to help protect our clients from increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks.

Its ability to rapidly analyse vast amounts of data can unlock powerful insights, and allow companies to make genuinely data-driven decisions.

As AI seamlessly integrates into existing technologies and platforms, businesses are poised to experience a transformative shift, fostering innovation, agility, and unparalleled growth.

The era of AI isn't just about embracing technology; it's about embracing a new era of possibilities in business. And we’re all for that at Voco.

AI is not just a tech fad; it's a game-changer for business transformation
Selwyn Rimmer

AI convert!

So after all this research and experimentation, what did I learn?

1. AI is not a future fantasy

It's not just a distant dream or something from the movies. AI is here, now, and weaving itself into our daily lives, from mundane tasks to mind-boggling innovations.

2. Tech evolution is real

The AI landscape is not just a tech hype bubble. It's a dynamic field propelled by tangible advancements, from GPT-4's prowess to the increasing integration of AI in our familiar devices.

3. Experimentation is key

Dive in, experiment, and embrace the learning curve. From Chat GPT to AI-generated content, the more you play, the more you discover about the potential of AI (and its limitations).

4. Practical applications abound

From automating repeatable tasks to providing deep and powerful insights, AI has practical applications that can enhance operational efficiency, customer service, data analysis, and pretty much any other digital touchpoint your business uses.

5. Global considerations matter

As we ride the AI wave, it's crucial to zoom out and consider global aspects like regulations and the origin of AI operations. Ensuring inclusivity and avoiding geographical dominance should be part of the AI conversation.

So, did I miss the AI bus? Not really, but the bus I'm on now is moving at breakneck speed.

I’m going to keep learning, experimenting, and looking for ways that it can improve business performance for the clients I work with.

Why don’t you jump onboard with me - I think it’s going to be a pretty exciting ride!

Get in touch with Selwyn, or others in the Voco team to talk about integrating AI into your business.