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Salesforce’s Robert Wickham: AI will be the new electricity

Nurdianah Md Nur | Oct. 27, 2017
Also optimistic that AI will lead to enriched or new jobs, Wickham provides tips on how to prepare for a world where AI is the norm.

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Credit: Tej3478 via

While news about the development and possible use cases of artificial intelligence (AI) elicit a lot of oohs and ahhs today, AI will be less admired in future. "In future, AI will be what electricity is today -- it will be a fundamental part of our lives but we won't be discussing how cool it is," Robert Wickham, Regional Vice President, Innovation & Digital Transformation, Asia Pacific Salesforce, told CIO Asia.

For that to happen, AI needs to be "democratised so that anyone -- regardless of their roles and skills -- can use it to deliver better outcomes", he added.

And we have made headway in that aspect. "Most people run their lives from their phones and most of the services they consume have AI in it but they aren't aware of it. Siri uses sophisticated natural language processing (NLP) to respond to your commands., on the other hand, uses deep learning to learn all of your shopping patterns, as well as its other customers', and make the recommendations. [The AI technologies powering both of these] just work like electricity in the background," Wickham exemplified.

Specific to organisations, democratising AI could help increase employee productivity and enable the business to be more customer-centric.

For instance, Salesforce's AI-powered platform for CRM, Einstein, enables salespeople to better service their clients by working like a personal assistant. "Einstein can automatically capture a phone call as an event and put that into the Salesforce record [freeing the salespeople from having to manually key in the data after every event]. Einstein can also look at all your sales leads, their historical buying patterns and propensity to buy, before providing recommendations on which lead to focus on," Wickham explained.

The example he gave consists of three steps fundamental for organisations that want to be innovative and customer-centric. "Organisations need to be able to connect all the data (be it from within the company or those ingested from external sources), reason over that data using AI, and be able to act. If you can't take the right action after having insights, you've lost the opportunity to [be useful and/or] deliver [a good] customer experience," Wickham asserted.


Are our jobs at risk as AI becomes pervasive?

When asked about the much debated topic of the impact of AI on jobs, Wickham is optimistic that AI will have a positive impact.

"AI is going to make everyone more productive and liberate more resources within an organisation to deploy more people to higher value tasks. If we look back at technology dislocation events in the past, [we can see that even though] we have not been able to [accurately predict] how the world will look like in future, we've always come out the other side net positive, and with more enriched jobs or jobs that didn't used to exist previously," said Wickham.


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