Forget the IoT, AI is the NBT

As a communicator – if that’s what, like me, you are – I think there is an implied duty to keep it simple, concise, accurate and to-the-point. It is part of our job to ensure that the message is understood, and central to that is using the right words and the right terminology. And being rigorous about others doing so – keeping your spokespeople in check – and absolutely not pandering to the latest buzzwords and phrases unless they are applicable and relevant.

One of the areas with a propensity for chucking up such terms is, of course, the tech sector.  It was only four years ago that I first encountered the Internet of Things. The IoT, for the sake of clarity and a frame of reference, was the idea of machines connected by the internet, exchanging data and information, thereby better enabling the lives of the humans interacting with those machines.

It was science fiction becoming science fact – mooted examples included fridges that would email their owners to advise them that they were low on Chardonnay, cars that would ‘talk’ to parking spaces to ascertain which were empty and transport hubs that would manage passenger flows by anticipating staffing and infrastructure requirements on a ‘just in time’ basis.

The IoT was the Next Big Thing, and – briefly – everyone (seemingly) had some skin in the IoT game and an industry grew up around it. I myself spoke at an event in Frankfurt entitled ‘Monetising the Internet of Things’ (in front of an audience of 17 people, I’ll admit).

It’s still going on – I recently read a lovely piece of corporate pluggery on the Forbes ‘news’ site (here it is) which explains how Heineken, brewers of the global parish, are busy using big data, the IoT and AI to enhance their customer experience. (And sell more beer. Obviously.)

All very, very consumer-focused, very hi-tech, undoubtedly extremely experience-enhancing – and, the real point, highly reputation-building and positioning of Heineken in the very vanguard of new thing adoption.

But IoT or AI? I’m no tech whizz, but – as a communicator, wishing to ensure things are factual, easy-to-understand and reputation enhancing – I’d have to question it. Looks mostly like clever use of existing technologies bundled together to give the appearance of a whole thing.

Doesn’t mean the IoT doesn’t exist, mind. There are smart roads. You can turn your heating on via your smartphone. But mostly, the IoT has turned out to be gathering data, from ever-more numerous sources and using it in decision-making. Brilliant, but not, really – to my mind – machines talking to each other over the internet.

Which brings us to the latest tech buzzterm, AI. Apparently, 70% of enterprises expect to implement AI over the next twelve months (again, I’m afraid, via Forbes).

It’s an interesting statistic, given the fact that Artificial Intelligence doesn’t actually exist yet. It is the IoT experience all over again – AI is the new shiny object, which everyone covets (partly through severe FOMO), but without really understanding the reality of it.

Like ‘blockchain’, AI is becoming a buzzphrase, shoehorned into presentations and strategies, simply to demonstrate that the organisation is up-to-speed with the latest, down with the technopreneurs and (most definitely) not missing a trick. Doesn’t seem to be important whether the buzz term du jour is being used correctly or not.

Unfortunately, the very use of the term ‘AI’ gives the lie to anything containing it. What we are dealing with today is, as I understand it, augmented machine learning, not intelligence – your bots, which, it seems, and in advanced cases, can access previous decision trees to improve future decision making.

I’m a firm believer that AI will become part of our lives, and very much sooner rather than later. I’m also a firm believer in the Internet of Things and am confident that real M2M communication will also be a part of our day-to-day. I rather suspect that the development of the former will facilitate the latter.

Until, however, it does happen, we – the guardians of the message, the conscience of the organisation – need to ensure that we’re not just jumping on a poorly-understood bandwagon, for short-term (and rather flimsy and see-through) reputational gain.

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