Customer Experience Management (CEM)

Companies that miss AI will die says Sidetrade CEO

Sidetrade is a French company which builds tools to handle the entire customer journey. This has included recently acquiring two AI startups. We speak to CEO, Olivier Novasque, who founded the company in 2000.

Why will companies increasingly need to rely on Artificial Intelligence (AI) & Machine Learning and, outside of the normal cost savings, what will this mean for business?

The implications for companies are far-reaching.

First, AI radically changes and improves the decision-making process in an organisation.

AI, instead of assuming what the best rules are, learns them by exploring the available data. What was formerly a constraint for the expert – too much information leading to over-generalising rules – becomes an advantage for AI – a more accurate description of reality resulting in optimised suggestions and even automated actions. Due to machine learning algorithms, AI will improve itself with the time being and its accuracy is more and more efficient that’s not always the case with just human behaviour.

Moreover, as virtual AI assistants will spread throughout the workplace, there will obviously be a need for designing processes to collaborate efficiently with them. This should lead to a redefinition of the required skills on many jobs positions and substantial training. Companies which are most advanced than their competitors perfectly know that their success is linked to how make humans and AI work together in a harmonious path. Companies will miss this disruptive evolution and the related power coming from AI will be dead in the coming years.

What prompted Sidetrade’s two recent acquisitions?

With these two acquisitions in the AI space, we are now able to create value for our customers over the entire customer journey by leveraging AI to strengthen the main asset of any company, its customers.

The acquisitions of BrightTarget and IKO System, respectively in November and December 2016, are fully in line with Sidetrade’s strategy to enhance business performance with a unique and simple value proposition: increase sales and accelerate cash. We want to create value in their daily business life, avoiding them entering into a complex, long term and very expensive project requiring rare skills without any guarantee to succeed.

Will you be acquiring more machine learning and AI companies?

We are always keeping an eye on the new AI solutions emerging in the market. We certainly won’t ignore any interesting opportunity if it creates value to lead the race on AI space. Notwithstanding acquisition of startups BrightTarget and IKO System at the end of 2016, Sidetrade Group maintains a solid financial structure, with Net cash flow position recorded at £7.2M [$9.1M] and 80,000 Treasury Sidetrade shares.

What are your short, medium and long term ambitions for the company?

In 2017, we aim to achieve 20-25% growth planned in the company’s strategic program by reaping the benefits of investments made in sales and marketing, Sidetrade Payment Intelligence (SPi) solution and the broadening of the offer across the entire customer cycle, following the acquisitions of BrightTarget and IKO System.

What other companies do you think are doing interesting work in the predictive analytics space?

Beyond the GAFA (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple) and their Chinese equivalents, the BATX (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent and Xiaomi) which have unlimited cash to invest massively in AI, we observe the real emergence of a full AI ecosystem with plenty of very interesting startups booming in US, China, but also in Europe in all the verticals of our current economy: medicine, biotech, automotive, aerospace, travel, finance.

We have known about the cloud revolution for around 10 to 15 years, but we now enter AI disruption, from which business impacts will be a million times more powerful than previously. 

The ‘race to AI’ has just been launched and it will transform our daily life. The only question now is “How far?”

Is blockchain all it is hyped up to be?

We are of course watching on-going developments in this space.

Blockchain has an obvious appeal to software players in the business network field, especially in the supply-chain finance and payment space but it could take a long time to see profitable success and achievements.

It could also herald a new way of accessing and sharing technically and organisationally siloed data. Without the need to migrate this data to centralised repositories, AI algorithms could diversify the sources of information they learn from and thus improve their accuracy.

For now, it has yet to live up to its promises, scalability and massive adoption being still an issue.

In the wider tech sphere what do you think the most interesting trends at the moment are?

One of the most interesting and dynamic trends would be the improvements in Text Analytics and Natural Language Processing (NLP).

The ultimate goal is to process communications between humans and machines to enable flawless interactions. This is a key trend especially in B2B as there is a real need to process growing volumes of unstructured data IT corporate systems, unveiling the business value buried underneath and draw useful insights. Improvements in this trend will hopefully allow machine to pass the Turing test thus changing completely the way we interact with machines. Another topic is to leverage AI beyond machine learning and deep learning to the stage of autonomous consciousness, but at this step it could be very dangerous for us.

Is Universal Basic Income the answer to a post-automation world?

As automation begins to take over several jobs – it is estimated that it will take over 57% of jobs – I understand that some people like Elon Musk speak about the Universal Basic Income (UBI) as a possible solution to the anticipated unemployment it will create, which is estimated to be in the millions by the end of the decade. In fact, UBI systems are already being tested in countries such as Canada, Finland and the Netherlands, so hard data on the practicality of such systems should be forthcoming.

To be honest, if we should reach UBI, it would mean the death of work, initiative and creativity and is too far away from my philosophy.

There are certainly many complexities associated with the rollout of UBI: Would the additional money come from taxes? Will UBI cause problems that we can’t anticipate or create more conflict than it resolves? Can governments react quickly enough, given the pace of innovation and automation in tech? Is it actually a solution to technological unemployment? Or will we still have to go through a turbulent, violent period as we redistribute our labour in a world of robots and AI?

We have a lot of still unanswered questions to think about in the next few years, and we have very little time. I believe that, in three years, AI will already be the new normal.

Technology is likely to have an increased impact on the future of society – do you think any aspects of this are dystopian?

In 2006, in his book The Age of Spiritual Machines, Ray Kurzweil wrote “The 21st century will be different. The human species, along with the computational technology it created, will be able to solve age-old problems, and will be in a position to change the nature of mortality in a post-biological future.” According to Kurzweil, we would soon reach the Singularity, when we would be transformed into “Spiritual Machines”.

Today is already the future. Technological progress isn’t linear; it’s exponential. The software industry has taken 15 years to reach the Cloud era. It’s going to need less than five to reach the far more disruptive era of Artificial Intelligence.

Tomorrow, the new race will be for neuro-enhancement. Elon Musk has already launched the beginning of the race with his “Neuralink” startup. He strongly believes that AI will soon become more intelligent than human and is afraid by the alternative for us – will we be become robots’ pets? For Musk, the rise of our cerebral capabilities is the only reasonable way to overcome this issue. This technology will raise new problems: would we augment the IQ of everyone without any distinction? Will intelligence become the new gold? Will it increase inequality or, the opposite? We are only sure of one thing today: we are on the eve of a revolution and we have to be prepared for it.


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