Can Machines Think?

Thadeus Suzenski

While we take for granted the capabilities of modern computer systems, the title of this column is the central theme of Computing Machinery and Intelligence written in 1950 by Professor Alan Turing. You may have heard of the “Turing Test,” which was created by the Professor with the intent that we (humans) would at some point in time be unable to distinguish between a human and machine response given the same set of questions. This level of machine thinking is distinguished by Turing in what he calls an “Imitation Game.”¹

This Imitation Game he describes (keep in mind this is over half a century ago) can be visualized like this:

The interrogator would pose a series of blind questions to the man and woman and try to gauge which of the subjects is the man and which is the woman, for example.

C: Will X please tell me the length of his or her hair?

Subject X: “My hair is shingled, and the longest strands are about nine inches long.”²

The Imitation Game would then replace one of the subjects with a computer and try to trick the interrogator into believing the computer was human based on the series of responses. In his model, the parties would communicate through typed questions and responses, with one of the parties attempting to aid the interrogator and the other using various responses to trick him or her.

In contemplating the outcome of this game, Turing updates his original question of whether computers can think and instead looks to the output of how the computer/machine thinks. “Are there imaginable digital computers which would do well in the imitation game?” This was obviously posed at a time when it was hard to fathom the reach of technology in future society.

There can be little doubt that computers (and other forms of technology) will evolve beyond merely being able to trick a human into thinking it is a person, and instead utilize machine learning and other aspects of AI to analyze and digest massive inputs of information with intelligent outputs that can adapt to varying circumstances and conditions. Indeed, there are currently computer systems that can not only respond as a human, but predict human behavior and needs.

What’s next for artificial intelligence?

While this may not seem out of the ordinary for those who grew up with technology, the foresight applied by Turing in his research and writing was far ahead of its time. Though the test may not be perfect, it examines the psychology behind computer decision making and human imitation and gives background about how we ended up in the world of phones that talk to us and television interfaces that predict what humans would enjoy watching.

We can only hope that this technology will be used responsibly. And that we can still use our incredibly nuanced and hard to quantify human emotions to determine who is and who is not a computer.

For now, it seems hard to imagine any different reality. As the character Sterling Archer from the FX series Archer says, when presented by scientist Krieger’s cyborgs, “There’s no way one of these …inepticons could pass the Turing test.” (FX’s Archer “Deadly Velvet: Part II Season 7, Episode 10)

Machine learning is no longer just for smartphones or game shows. Here’s how to develop a strategy that will change the basis of competition in your industry. Read Why Machine Learning and Why Now?

¹A. M. Turing (1950) Computing Machinery and Intelligence. P. 433
²A. M. Turing (1950) Computing Machinery and Intelligence. P. 433
³A. M. Turing (1950) Computing Machinery and Intelligence. P. 442


Digitalist Flash Briefing: Artificial Intelligence Is Anything But Artificial

Bonnie D. Graham

Today’s briefing is a reality check on a long overdue level-setting. These two digital technologies has been bandied about as buzzwords at academic conferences, business strategy sessions, and even public discussions. What’s the problem? They are widely misunderstood, erroneously used interchangeably, and underestimated in their power to disrupt the way businesses operate.


  • Amazon Echo or Dot: Enable the “Digitalist” flash briefing skill, and ask Alexa to “play my flash briefings” on every business day.
  • Alexa on a mobile device:
    • Download the Amazon Alexa app: Select Skills, and search “Digitalist”. Then, select Digitalist, and click on the Enable button.
    • Download the Amazon app: Click on the microphone icon and say “Play my flash briefing.”

Find and listen to previous Flash Briefings on

Read more on today’s topic



About Bonnie D. Graham

Bonnie D. Graham is the creator, producer and host/moderator of 29 Game-Changers Radio series presented by SAP, bringing technology and business strategy thought leadership panel discussions to a global audience via the Business Channel on World Talk Radio. A broadcast journalist with nearly 20 years in media production and hosting, Bonnie has held marketing communications management roles in the business software, financial services, and real estate industries. She calls SAP Radio her "dream job". Listen to Coffee Break with Game-Changers.

How AI And Bots Are Shaping The Banking Experience

Ankita Sahni

India’s most valuable bank, HDFC Bank, is leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) at its core by offering conversational interfaces, such as humanoids and chatbots, to transform the customer experience.

In the six months since she joined HDFC Bank, Eva has had over 1.2 million conversations addressing nearly 2.7 million customer queries. In an environment where the country’s biggest and most competitive banks are jostling to acquire modern customers, Eva is just what the bank’s country head of digital banking, Nitin Chugh, had asked for.

Earlier this month, Eva also became India’s largest banking chatbot.

Indeed. Eva, which stands for electronic virtual assistant, combines natural language processing and artificial intelligence to offer an almost human-like customer experience for users. For now, she works out of the bank’s homepage.

The core idea is to use bots, AI, machine learning (ML), and humanoids to offer a differentiated customer experience. “Convenience is a given, it’s no more a new frontier,” says Chugh.

For Chugh and HDFC Bank, Eva is among several building blocks that will help shape “a sci-fi” future, aligned tightly with the mission of providing a differentiated customer experience. And the ongoing convergence of new technologies, including AI, ML, and so on, is only making this journey more grounded, and not just another hype cycle.

“That’s how it’s happened in the past also. The only good thing is that there are quite a few things happening together now, “says Chugh. “It’s not like there is an AI revolution happening and AR/VR (augmented reality/virtual reality) is not happening, or IoT (Internet of Things) and cloud are not happening. Everything is happening pretty much together. So, because these are happening together, their ability to converge and make a very powerful interface is possible in a short time.”

Eva is not the only conversational interface HFDC Bank is using; it’s also leveraging humanoid robot IRA (intelligent robotic assistant) and the Facebook messenger bot. All are powered by AI and ML and are evolving fast.

Eva engages with HDFC Bank customers across the website and mobile interfaces, providing product details, fees and charges for various products, application processes, branch codes, and a lot more information in few seconds, but IRA is a physical robot guiding customers to relevant counters in a branch.

HDFC Bank worked with partners including Senseforth AI Research and to create them.

“Eva currently handles 50,000-plus semantic variations for thousands of banking-related intents,” says Shridhar Marri, CEO and co-founder of Senseforth. “Eva’s everyday interactions with users go through a conceptual banking knowledge framework, which in turn enhances her ability to field more questions accurately. Eva never sleeps and her learning never stops!”

Digital is not skin deep

“It’s not enough being simply digital anymore,” Chugh says. “It has to go beyond making life convenient for customers and become a launch pad for starting a whole new level of customer experience.”

Indeed, with competitive pressure from new banks on one hand, and the battle to gain the mindshare and engagement of millennial customers on the other, India’s financial services industry is going through a massive disruption. The pace of innovation will determine the winners and the losers. And just being digital isn’t enough anymore.

For Chugh, there are important questions that technology can help answer.

“You can’t tell the customer, ‘You know, now I’m going to give you a convenient way of dealing with me.’ Convenience is a basic necessity now. So what is the next level of experience for the customer? What is the next level of ease for the customer? What is the overall depth of the interactions that the customer is having with the bank, and the overall width of the transactions she is carrying out with the bank?”

For the new experiments to make sense and enhance customer experience, it’s crucial to answer the questions above.

“A lot of people can be digitally active, but sooner or later you realize that they’re just logging in to check their balances,” says Chugh. “And everything else is still the same old way. They’re writing checks, they’re withdrawing cash, they’re doing everything else like they were doing in the old days – to them it seems like that is how banking is. And digital is just a way of accessing my account and getting whatever information I need.”

At the core, these new platforms, powered by ML and AI, have to learn continuously from each customer interaction.

“The learnings are really about things that [Eva] doesn’t know. If a customer asks a question and the bot doesn’t know the answer, it gets recorded and somebody can go and address that. With machine learning, this will evolve and over a period of time will become a full-fledged interface for customers,” says Chugh.

HDFC Bank’s technology team also keeps a close watch and churns out lines of code to ensure the overall interface evolves.

“There is software that allows the bot to capture the information, analyze it, do some bit of self training, which is the easier part, and the rest of it has obviously got to be coded.”


For its part, HDFC Bank is not shying away from new experiments and the failures they bring.

“In our case, we are running around 200 experiments (at any point in time). Out of these, even if half of them fail, it doesn’t make any difference, because there are a hundred that can be scaled up. We do expect a lot of them to fail. So many of these learnings have helped us identify the right bets,” says Chugh.

While the technology experiments have been ahead of business all these years at HDFC Bank, the pace of experimentation has become faster and more intense. “You see this happening a lot more now,” he says.

Platform play

To make a substantial impact, new technology products, especially those powered by AI, need to be part of a broader, sustainable platform strategy.

“The aim is to run these as a completely new channel. I can’t put a number on them, but almost everything that the bank has to offer can be delivered using a conversational UI (user interface) powered by AI on the customer side,” he says.

“We are looking at AI and ML as platform capability … When you need an interface which is unmanned, you need a fairly sophisticated level of intelligence.”

Apart from transforming customer experience, HDFC Bank’s conversational interfaces are also being applied internally.

“Internally, we are already experimenting with quite a bit of those things, from leave processing to ticketing and so on,” he says. “We are trying out several use cases, and that’s why we are taking a platform-based approach.” Over the next few months and years, all this will help offer even more personalized customer experiences. “Now what is likely to happen is that, because we will have some layers of artificial intelligence and new sources of data, the algorithms will become sharper, will become more segmented. We will be able to drive a high level of personalization rather than being at a segment level.”

Sci-fi today, reality tomorrow

Yesterday’s science fiction is today’s reality. And today’s sci-fi will become tomorrow’s mainstream. “Everything we are imagining is ending up being possible and real. I remember when we launched [our] watch banking application two years ago, it looked like sci-fi. How could you talk to your watch, get a few things done?” says Chugh.

So what’s HDFC Bank’s view of sci-fi when it comes to customer experience? “The sci-fi view is that you could … have a face-to-face conversation without moving an inch from wherever you are based. All of that can be made possible through AR/VR, and everything else can be embedded inside using voice or gesture. At the moment, this seems possible,” he says. “In the long term, it is difficult to tell what will happen because something new is going to come up. Maybe you’ll be able to bank from your car, your home, or using other home appliances that are also connected. That’s why I am saying it will be a convergence of IoT, AR/VR, and maybe some other new platform capabilities such as blockchain, other voice interfaces. I would think, in the next 18-24 months, you will see a lot of these sci-fi kind of interfaces.”

Learn more about changing the basis of competition in your industry. Why Machine Learning and Why Now?


Ankita Sahni

About Ankita Sahni

Ankita Sahni works on branded content and strategic initiatives at FactorDaily. Prior to this she worked with mainstream television channels as a content producer and anchor.

Diving Deep Into Digital Experiences

Kai Goerlich


Google Cardboard VR goggles cost US$8
By 2019, immersive solutions
will be adopted in 20% of enterprise businesses
By 2025, the market for immersive hardware and software technology could be $182 billion
In 2017, Lowe’s launched
Holoroom How To VR DIY clinics

Link to Sources

From Dipping a Toe to Fully Immersed

The first wave of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) is here,

using smartphones, glasses, and goggles to place us in the middle of 360-degree digital environments or overlay digital artifacts on the physical world. Prototypes, pilot projects, and first movers have already emerged:

  • Guiding warehouse pickers, cargo loaders, and truck drivers with AR
  • Overlaying constantly updated blueprints, measurements, and other construction data on building sites in real time with AR
  • Building 3D machine prototypes in VR for virtual testing and maintenance planning
  • Exhibiting new appliances and fixtures in a VR mockup of the customer’s home
  • Teaching medicine with AR tools that overlay diagnostics and instructions on patients’ bodies

A Vast Sea of Possibilities

Immersive technologies leapt forward in spring 2017 with the introduction of three new products:

  • Nvidia’s Project Holodeck, which generates shared photorealistic VR environments
  • A cloud-based platform for industrial AR from Lenovo New Vision AR and Wikitude
  • A workspace and headset from Meta that lets users use their hands to interact with AR artifacts

The Truly Digital Workplace

New immersive experiences won’t simply be new tools for existing tasks. They promise to create entirely new ways of working.

VR avatars that look and sound like their owners will soon be able to meet in realistic virtual meeting spaces without requiring users to leave their desks or even their homes. With enough computing power and a smart-enough AI, we could soon let VR avatars act as our proxies while we’re doing other things—and (theoretically) do it well enough that no one can tell the difference.

We’ll need a way to signal when an avatar is being human driven in real time, when it’s on autopilot, and when it’s owned by a bot.

What Is Immersion?

A completely immersive experience that’s indistinguishable from real life is impossible given the current constraints on power, throughput, and battery life.

To make current digital experiences more convincing, we’ll need interactive sensors in objects and materials, more powerful infrastructure to create realistic images, and smarter interfaces to interpret and interact with data.

When everything around us is intelligent and interactive, every environment could have an AR overlay or VR presence, with use cases ranging from gaming to firefighting.

We could see a backlash touting the superiority of the unmediated physical world—but multisensory immersive experiences that we can navigate in 360-degree space will change what we consider “real.”

Download the executive brief Diving Deep Into Digital Experiences.

Read the full article Swimming in the Immersive Digital Experience.


Kai Goerlich

About Kai Goerlich

Kai Goerlich is the Chief Futurist at SAP Innovation Center network His specialties include Competitive Intelligence, Market Intelligence, Corporate Foresight, Trends, Futuring and ideation. Share your thoughts with Kai on Twitter @KaiGoe.heif Futu


Blockchain: Thoughts On The "Next Big Thing"

Ross Doherty

Many people associate blockchain with bitcoin—which is, at least for today, the most common application to leverage blockchain. However, when you dig a little deeper and consider the core concepts of blockchain—distribution, consensus achieved by algorithm rather than opinion, cryptographically secure, private—you start to think about how these aspects can be applied, both technically and strategically, to solve problems simple and  complex. Blockchain is neither a product nor a system – instead, it is a concept.

Blockchain applications disrupt conventional thinking and conventional approaches regarding data processing, handling, and storage. First we had the “move to the cloud,” and many were cautious and even frightened of what it meant to move their systems, infrastructure, and data to a platform outside their organization’s four walls. Compound this with blockchain in its purest form—a distributed and possibly shared resource—and you can see why many may be reluctant.

My sentiment, however, is a little different. Creating a solid basis that harnesses the concepts of blockchain with sufficient thought leadership and knowledge-sharing, along with a pragmatic and open-minded approach to problem-solving, can lead to innovative and disruptive outcomes and solid solutions for customers. Blockchain should not be feared, but rather rationalized and demystified, with the goal of making it someday as ubiquitous as the cloud. Blockchain should not be pigeonholed into a specific industry or use case—it is much more that, and it should be much more than that.

Grounding ourselves momentarily, allow me to relay some ideas from both within the enterprise and customers regarding possible use cases for blockchain technology: From placing blockchain at the core of business networks for traceability and auditability, to a way for ordinary people to easily and cheaply post a document as part of a patent process; a way to counteract bootlegging and counterfeiting in commodity supply chain, a way to add an additional layer of security to simple email exchange; from electronic voting systems through to medial record storage. The beauty of blockchain is that its application can scale as big as your imagination allows.

Blockchain is not the staple of the corporate, nor is it limited to grand and expansive development teams—most of the technology is open source, public, and tangible to everyone. It is not an exclusive or expert concept, prohibitive in terms of cost or resource. Blockchain is a new frontier, largely unmined and full of opportunity.

In closing, I invite you to invest some time to do what I did when I first encountered the concept and needed to better understand it. Plug “Blockchain explained simply” (or words to that effect) into your preferred search engine. Find the article that best speaks to you—there are plenty online. Once you get it (and I promise you will) and experience your “eureka!” moment, start to think how blockchain and its concepts might help you solve a business or technical problem.

For more insight on blockchain, see Blockchain’s Value Underestimated, Despite The Hype.


Ross Doherty

About Ross Doherty

Ross Doherty is a manager in the SAP Innovative Business Solutions team, based in Galway, Ireland. Ross’s team’s focus is in the domain of Business Networks and Innovation. Ross is proud to lead a talented and diverse team of pre-sales, integration, quality management, user assistance and solution architects, and to be serving SAP for almost 4 years.