Artificial Intelligence for the Rest of Us: Machine Learning

A few weeks ago I received an email that really excited me. I’ve worked on a lot of cutting edge technologies as a marketing and development strategist and advisor to many startup companies, but this particular message felt like a bold glimpse into the future. It was a compelling look at how small businesses can leverage new technology to compete and succeed at a higher level.

The message came from a company called Clarifai, which is developing machine learning APIs with the belief that “the same AI technology that gives big tech companies a competitive edge should be available to developers or businesses of any size or budget.” Their image and video recognition API leads the industry, with the ability to quickly and efficiently process and identify mass quantities of images. With the addition of Custom Training, which allows companies to “teach” AI to understand concepts relevant to their business, Clarifai is ushering in a future in which Artificial Intelligence can be deployed to assist businesses of all sizes.

The Democratization of Artificial Intelligence

While AI has been a target of human innovation for at least a few centuries, it is only recently that technology has caught up with our imaginations and allowed for concrete steps towards intelligent computing. IBM’s Watson, a big hit on Jeopardy several years ago, was arguably the first non-fictional AI to capture the public’s attention and create widespread dialogue about the future of this technology. Presented as both a novelty and an example of the new frontier awaiting us in the digital age, Watson represented incredible investment and effort on the part of the technological elite.

Many assumed that Artificial Intelligence would be an innovation that took decades or more to trickle down to the average mid-sized or small business, a Silicon Valley rarity available only to those on the cutting-edge of science and technology. However, the Big Data boom has resulted in the democratization of Artificial Intelligence. The increase in the need for programs that can digest reams of data and produce actionable insights has led to APIs such as Clarifai’s, which are beginning to make the benefits of AI and machine learning more widely accessible.

The possibilities are endless, but let’s take a look at how AI can enhance our work today.

Machine Learning: Big Data Meets Artificial Intelligence

In an article in McKinsey Quarterly, Dorian Pyle and Christina San Jose discuss the emergence of machine learning as a tool for small businesses, noting that “the unmanageable volume and complexity of the big data that the world is now swimming in have increased the potential of machine learning—and the need for it.” In the last decade or so, the vast quantities of data available for analysis have become an increasing asset to companies seeking to understand consumer desires, demographic buying patterns, and trends in the market. By using algorithms to tirelessly churn through complex data, machine learning outstrips the human capacity to process large quantities of information, automating that big picture work and leaving the human brain to process the finer points.

In Clarifai’s case, this means an API that can recognize and tag diverse elements in massive amounts of pictures and videos much more quickly and accurately than a human employee ever could. That employee, instead of spending valuable time organizing and classifying those images, can now make strategic decisions about how to use the images that are readily available to them. With applications ranging from optimizing product photography and curating content that is both impactful and on-brand to helping doctors notice and diagnose problems through enhanced medical imaging, machine learning and visual recognition offers incredible opportunities.

Applications for Startups and Small Businesses

Now that both Big Data and the means to process it with AI and machine learning are becoming more accessible, there are potentially endless ways for startups and small businesses to harness the benefits:

Predictive Analytics has already become a large part of the conversation surrounding machine learning, allowing companies to analyze consumer behavior and make informed and strategic decisions about marketing, customer acquisition, and even product development.

Financial analysis APIs can crunch financial data and provide insight into pricing strategies, high and low performing products, and even uncover signs of fraud or financial malfeasance.

Even talent management is seeing revolutionary changes as a result of machine learning. By compiling and processing resume information, several companies have developed the ability to predict which job candidates will thrive and streamline their employee hiring and retention efforts.

Innovation Potential

While there are countless ways for small businesses to take advantage of machine learning to improve processes and generate better results, the most exciting opportunity is for further innovation. Technology-savvy entrepreneurs have the ability to position themselves on the front lines of this rapidly advancing field. As Artificial Intelligence and machine learning APIs become available to a broader market, the only limit to what can be achieved is what we are able to envision and create.

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