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AI Tech North

Last month I attended the new AI Tech North conference in Leeds. “AI” (Artificial Intelligence) is a topic I’ve been touching on recently in various projects with technologies such as NLP (Natural Language Processing), Chatbots and Machine Learning starting to be discussed by customers rather than just talked about by us in blogs and presentations.

The conference was organised by Sherin Mathew (@Sherin_AI) and his team at @AITechnorth and consisted of a day of sessions delivered in three steams by industry experts across the AI field. As a regular attendee of Oracle conferences, it was interesting to see many different presentations from people well outside our big red bubble. Topics included Machine Learning, Robotics, Reinforcement Learning, Deep Learning, IoT (Internet of Things) and many other combinations of all things AI.

The state of AI

The opening talks were focused on the current state of AI and where we are in the technologies’ lifecycles. A great slide which I think summed it up showed the first ever Benz motorwagon:

Image result for first ever mercedes car

As you can see, it is a long way off what we consider a motor vehicle today – there are no seatbelts, no steering wheel, the road is a mess… the list goes on. But it was what led to the technology we had today.

The Benz motorwagon is the stage we are at today with AI. We have this new technology and it is great, but it can be taken so much further. But we do also need to add the seatbelts (think about ethics). This car was created in 1885, which isn’t really that long ago, and you can see how much progress has been made in the technology. Couple this with the rate at which technology improves, we are looking at room for some major advancements in AI technologies.

What is AI?

At the moment, simple technology is doing simple things and we call it AI. The mathematics behind things like machine learning has been around for a long time, but the difference is now that you don’t need a PHD to be able to use it in a meaningful way. Tools are available from many different companies to allow you to take your existing data (which is always growing) and apply machine learning techniques to find trends that can’t be seen by the human eye.

It could be easy to think that the following apply to AI:

  • Its hard to define
  • It’s only for big things – self-driving cars and big companies
  • It’s difficult to implement – should be left to data scientists
  • It won’t deliver on investment

In reality, none of these things are true. Now that we have frameworks available to us, it is becoming easier for developers like me to start to think about implementing AI into applications. AI can also be used for so much more than self-driving cars. Any company’s data will hold trends and patterns that could allow them to cut costs, reduce waste etc.

With regards to profitability – currently, around 82% of AI investments have been profitable for the 27% of businesses that have implemented AI (Nayan Kale, Persistant). So you can see that there’s a lot of profitability still to be had from the technology.

What does this mean in the Oracle world?

One thing that stood out massively to me was the fact that at no point during the conference did I hear anyone mention Oracle. There were people from a huge variety of software and cloud stacks but nobody that seemed to be using anything Oracle related. On one hand I find this crazy because the percentage of businesses with an Oracle database somewhere must be huge, but on the other hand I get it – Oracle isn’t exactly seen as ‘Cool’ to anyone that isn’t already using it. APEX is a prime example. The users of Oracle APEX absolutely LOVE it – I don’t know of any software development tools that get standing ovations and have such an active, interested community. But outside of the Oracle bubble, I would say that not many people have heard of it. I use an Oracle database and APEX to solve most tasks, but I know most developers wouldn’t even consider Oracle.

Now I don’t care if my friends want to develop their web applications using whatever the newest trendy framework is and then end up with a sub par application a year later, despite me constantly telling them to try APEX, but adoption of Oracle’s AI technologies by a wider audience is absolutely crucial. If we are at the Benz motorwagon stage in the AI lifecycle then I truly believe some of the Oracle technologies such as the digital assistants and autonomous database are the next step – there’s nothing I saw technology wise from any other stack that comes close, certainly to the chatbots.

Going forward it would be great if Oracle could interact with these communities a little more – (maybe some of the presentations that get delivered at Oracle conferences could be delivered at independent conferences like AI Tech North) and potentially offer some free or almost free levels of their AI and cloud technologies. The cloud trial is useful, but a version of XE in the cloud with digital assistant on a pay per interaction model instead of £11k+ a year would in my opinion bring lots of new customers to the Oracle stack who wouldn’t currently even consider Oracle.

Craig Sykes Contributor
Senior Oracle Development Consultant , Explorer UK Ltd

Craig is a Senior Development Consultant at Explorer. Craig has an MSc in Computing Science and is an experienced software engineer, utilising development tools such as PL/SQL and APEX to provide bespoke ERP software to both UK and international businesses. Craig has experience developing solutions to connect Oracle systems to a wide range of existing external applications within business environments.

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