By Elisa Harca and Eugene Lai | For some time now, AI has stimulated press coverage from all angles – how it will save us from more mundane tasks, how it will change the jobs of retail and service staff, how the advent of machines that can learn will herald a fundamental shift in how we exist in the world as we know it.
Predicted to increase global GDP by 14% by 2030 (the equivalent of US$15.7 trillion), it’s a technology that will underpin all serious moves towards the development of smart cities that strive for a successful long-term future.
Early Adopters Lead The Way
Asia is set to lead the world in this particular tech revolution. Right now, of the more than 1.4 billion mobile chat app users in the world, 805 million are based in Asia Pacific – and chat apps are where chatbots and AI functionality ‘live’.
From carrying out bank transactions to ordering food, users are happy to interact with virtual assistants – from WeChat’s WeSecretary and Baidu’s Duer to JD.com subsidiary LingLong’s Amazon Echo challenger DingDong.
The level of commitment in Asia to building smart cities also leads the world – China alone is running 285 pilots, and Singapore has stated its aim to become the world’s first smart nation.
Couple this with user enthusiasm for conversational commerce and virtual interactions, and there’s a huge opportunity to take AI to an exciting new level – one that leaves simple transactional functionality behind and begins to actually work out and deliver what users want.
Virtual Assistants Will Be Lifestyle Facilitators
Tomorrow’s virtual assistants and chatbots will become fully connected lifestyle facilitators that will not only act on orders, but will use machine learning to anticipate needs. This is because they will have access to millions of datapoints generated by users who have already taken advantage of AI through messaging platforms, smart speakers and any number of lifestyle apps that rely on personal information.
Mining this data and putting it to work will be central to smart city planning, and will affect strategies not only for retailers but for the entire smart city infrastructure – from public buildings and education to private housing, entertainment and communications.
AI will be at the heart of a new relationship between citizens and smart city infrastructures. Instead of remaining dormant until activated by user requests, ‘always on’ smart devices throughout the environment will learn from individual activity to form a picture of their wants and needs which will become clearer and more detailed over time.
What This Means
Users and service/product providers will be able to set parameters for intelligent transactions, based on recognizing user patterns for purchase and consumption:
▪ automatic ordering of standard purchase items, prompting for less regular purchases and promotion of related/abandoned basket items;
▪ pre-scheduled services such as appliance and building maintenance, even health and education checks;
▪ ‘smart’ monitoring of utilities, with user-focused facility management based on actual rather than predicted behavior, reducing waste and increasing efficiency;
▪ better asset management through connected buildings which have the ability to ‘talk’ to each other, as well as improved safety through automated processes and reduced downtime.
Retailers will no longer be limited to either physical stores or websites:
▪ every screen and device will be a potential personal shopping outlet, activated by user proximity and opt-in mobile services such as GPS, payment facilities, accelerometers, past purchases and profiles;
▪ strategists will need to develop processes for cashless, contactless, intelligent shopping via non-standard outlets from bus stops to billboards and entertainment venues;
▪ ads will be hyper-personalized because every outlet/datapoint has the potential to know and learn from a user’s shopping history as they pass by with a smart device;
▪ interactions will be permission-based – users will agree to sharing their details in advance for a range of services, so that the promotions and information delivered to them will be specifically tailored to their needs and will only appear on user-approved screens.
Those behind smart city development will need both the vision and the conviction to see beyond the headlines and recognize the potential that machine learning and cognitive computing have to change our lives and our relationship with technology for the better.
About The Authors
Elisa Harca is Regional Director and Co-founder of Red Ant Asia – a digital partner for retailers, providing connected mobile, digital and social experiences for their customers as well as unique insights, expertise, and execution in the Asian digital landscape.
Eugene Lai is Senior Technical Client Partner, providing technical expertise and leadership on AI and machine learning projects.