Being a start-up founder and innovation enthusiast, who worked the last couple of years with start-ups at the Entrepreneurship Centre of the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and now at the Digital Business Unit (DBU) at Swisscom, I often find myself confronted with this question: can innovation harm us and our society as many state?
It is an ethical question as innovation can change societies fundamentally. Like the bulb or the car. Imagine what people had been thinking about cars. Some were fascinated, others were scared. Today, many people in our society rely on using a car or buses. People in remote areas often need their cars to do shopping or bring their kids to school. On the other hand, the number of cars on our roads cause massive traffics jams and pollution. As you can see, innovation not only can help and change the life of millions of people, but also can harm our environment and our way of living. The issue relies on how we use innovation and innovative technologies.
The same holds true for Artificial Intelligence (AI). It is a technology that can change our job market and replace professions as many scientists and analysts predict. BUT: We are far from having robots walking through our streets and do complex jobs. However, there are some professions that are already affected by AI: Call centres and customer services are facing fundamental changes in their business. Customers who have problems with their purchased products want immediate solutions to their problems without having to wait. Smart software that is able to scan big amounts of data (documentation) to find the right solution for the customer can do this job faster and save time and costs and thus can help to increase the customer retention & loyalty to a company. It sounds like a win-win situation for both sides. For the commercial oriented organisation and the customer. Head of Product Design Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning Group at Swisscom states that “(chat)bots should not try to replace people in areas where they are good at. Instead, they can be used where they are, for example, too slow.”
Real World AI use cases
Let me give you three real world & working use cases how AI can help customer or staff to do their job better and faster.
While working at the TUM I supervised an AI based medical start-up through the business planning, modelling and market research. The intensive market research revealed some interesting insights of the work of doctors and surgeons. They spend too much time analysing medical imaging. We did find a gap in the market by using smart technologies to help surgeons and doctors interpreting the images faster. One senior medical practitioner said, “computer aided diagnosis will not replace jobs. Instead, it will help and aid them (doctors) saving lives”.
Recently I came across a Swiss Startup, Flyability, from the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) developing smart drones for accessing complex and confined spaces where manned entry is not possible or desirable. These drones not only can help us accessing confined, but also dangerous areas such as chemical tanks or vessels.
Sonar, a system developed by Swisscom, is another great example of how AI can help delivering better customer support. Customer reaches us through various (digital) channels, such as telephone, e-mails or even social media. Sonar is capable to analyse emotions and thus gives us a great feedback whether the customer is happy or not. By having contact to hundreds of customers during the day, it is often too difficult to analyse for a human being whether a customer is happy or satisfied or not. A system such as Sonar can aid the customer support. Additionally, it can also recognise trends or summarises customer feedback into a few sentences.
At Swisscom, we not only work to make Swisscom more competive but also to make the life of millions of people easier and help to solve real-world issues. As any organisation, even start-ups, we face obstacles like reluctant customers and societies. But this is okay. Why? Because history showed that it is in our nature to first refuse disruptive & innovative solutions, which is perfectly fine as this is a protection mechanism. This is called uncertainty avoidance. Some cultures and society do have higher uncertainty avoidance rates than others. But this doesn’t mean this is something bad. It just means that we tend to reducing risks. And disruptive technologies, like any other technologies or business idea, implies risks. Having a proper risk assessment is crucial for any organisation, business or society. I still do remember one of my Entrepreneurship Professors saying “Entrepreneurship is about risks. How you deal with risks personally. How you deal with risks assessing a business idea etc… It is a challenge.” Yes. It is a challenge. I am a firm believer that challenge and innovation is for the good of mankind and working as an open innovation manager at Swisscom I feel delighted to be at the forefront.
Thus, for anyone who is interested in innovative and disruptive technologies and would like to know more about us should take a look on our website (Link: https://www.swisscom.ch/en/business/start-up.html?campID=scs_sc-sme-startup) or visit us at the Pirates Hub.