Machine Learning: Why Now?

Eric Verniaut

In a 2016 Google technical conference keynote, Eric Schmidt, who is now chairman of Google’s parent Alphabet, said he has seen the future of wealth creation from the IT industry, and its name is machine learning. And earlier this year, in a Newsweek opinion piece, Schmidt wrote about the significant impact he sees machine learning having on the world. He said, “We are now entering a decade in which machine learning will come to define how we interact with technology and the world around us – and how technology helps humanity thrive.”

I agree with Schmidt’s assessment and believe that digital technologies such as machine learning have the power to change how the world creates innovative value. This powerful technology is bringing companies unprecedented insights, more accurate predictions, and the automation of routine tasks, all of which allows them to focus on higher value opportunities.

Problem-solving beyond human comprehension

No longer are programmers defining rules for computers – with machine learning, we now give them problems to solve and they learn how to accomplish this on their own. Imagine software that can observe human actions and learn how to perform them autonomously without being explicitly programmed. Imagine machines that can access, analyze, and find patterns in Big Data that is beyond human understanding. Imagine machines that can spot patterns and make connections through exposure to massive amounts of data so they become intelligent advisors and help people make better decisions.

Machine learning is doing all of this and it’s helping companies become exponential – where they have an impact that is at least 10 times greater than their competitors.’ And it’s creating intelligent enterprises where businesses are more empowered than ever before.

Why all the hoopla—and why now?

You may wonder why there is so much in the news about machine learning now. Why now, when artificial intelligence, the parent technology to machine learning, has been around for more than 50 years? The reason is because there is an extraordinary convergence of large volumes of Big Data, unprecedented computing power, and sophisticated self-learning algorithms taking place. The affordability, viability, and feasibility of these three technologies are the driving forces behind why machine learning is becoming more and more prevalent today.

Let’s look at Big Data first.

The amount of data available today – we are currently creating around five exabytes a day roughly equivalent to 500 million songs – is giving machines the possibility to become super-intelligent. Nonetheless, the amount of computing power required to process all this data takes far more computing power than that available in everyday central processing units (CPUs).

Not long ago, researchers found that instead of stacking traditional computers with CPUs in the cloud, another approach could be more effective. The graphics processing units (GPUs), which were developed to speed up the graphics in our everyday computers and especially in the gaming world, had faced a similar problem: the growing sophistication, data volume, and data speed in computer graphics. They solved the challenge by stacking a very large number of simpler computing units that would work in parallel to render the graphics.

Researchers realized the same approach could be a way to accelerate ML computations, and their talent made it work. As an indication of the power unleashed, I’ve been told that it would take 2,000 CPUs to match the power of 10 GPUs. With the ability to execute in-memory data management and their tremendous parallel processing capabilities, GPUs have given machine learning a good part of its current thrust.

If you now add to this the network effect provided by the open availability of highly sophisticated shared algorithms for ML, it’s should be easier to understand why now machines can think more accurately and independently, recognize contexts, and make better decisions on their own. What these machines will do for us is already going well beyond what predictive analytics and Big Data analytics have done for us in the past – and well beyond what any human can do in may domains!

Machine learning in the enterprise

For enterprises, machine learning can automate and prioritize routine decisions, making processes leaner and faster. Machine learning can also change traditional rules-based processes into intelligent processes by discovering and exploiting new patterns in large, unstructured data sets, making predictions about them, and adapting the processes accordingly.

In practical terms, what does this all mean? Well, for instance, when machine learning is coupled with technologies such as the Internet of Things, a machine can decide on what’s optimal to fix in the first place in a manufacturing plant. In a human resources department, machines can intelligently match resumes to open positions and recommend career paths by matching skills to future enterprise needs.

In finance, machine learning can take over lightweight finance operations and some of its highly repetitive tasks, such as checking inter-company reconciliations, invoices, or travel expenses for accuracy. It can as well interact with suppliers and provide optimal procurement recommendations to the purchasing department. Machine learning can also facilitate self-driving customer service where tickets can be created intelligently—i.e., they are created if ML thinks they are needed, even if the customer did not open them—and they can be handled by the customer care personnel guided by accurate step-by-step recommendations from the ML system.

This technology is clearly transforming applications throughout the enterprise – at exponential speed.

To learn more how your enterprise can benefit from machine learning and gain the foresight to transform your business, you can attend our Sapphire Now 2017 event or visit  https://www.sap.com/solution/machine-learning.html.

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Eric Verniaut

About Eric Verniaut

Eric Verniaut is Senior Vice President of Industries (EMEA) at SAP. He leads the regional Industry Organization covering Strategic, Core Industries and Industry Value Engineering.

How Big Data Can Tell You Which Book To Read Next

JP George

If you enjoy reading, but still haven’t foundyour next book to cozy up with, your smartphone might be able to suggest one. Artificial intelligence (AI) is now able to rank literature to predict the next bestseller – a kind of recommendation system, not based on metadata, but on the patterns and themes found in books.

Publishers around the globe are mining all kinds of data, including what’s in the books themselves, in search of the magic formula for evaluating a book’s market potential. With more informed marketing, publishers hope to better target their customers.

Recommending the popular novel

So, how does AI determine what we want to read? It turns out that certain emotional patterns keep us engaged and interested while reading a novel. Kurt Vonnegut first described the curves of emotional plotlines in 1995. Now, with the help of AI sentiment and emotion analysis, such plotlines can be extracted quantitatively. By combining these plotline curves, researchers from the Stanford Literary Lab claim to be able to detect the next blockbuster novel.

Machines think from data

Under the hood of such an AI sits Big Data and machine learning (ML). The concept of Big Data doesn’t just mean lots of data, but also that the data comes from many different data sources and types (e.g., audio, video, images, text, etc.) that are often unstructured (unlike traditional databases with well-defined fields). ML involves statistical algorithms that utilize sets of multi-type, unstructured data to predict class membership. This is possible by either knowing ahead of time which classes exist and training the ML algorithm by example (supervised learning) or letting the algorithm discover the underlying patterns (unsupervised learning).

ML methods include embedded vector space techniques (principal component analysis, K-nearest neighbor, and support vector machine), decision-tree based techniques (classification and regression tree, random forest), gradient and Bayesian-based methods, artificial neural networks (ANN), and others. Many tutorials on machine learning methods can be found here.

ANNs were among the first algorithms to be applied to solve problems in AI, beginning as long ago as the 1940s. For many reasons, their use has waxed and waned over the years, yet interest has recently resurged along with the unprecedented advance of deep learning. This growth in deep learning has lead to what the New York Times calls the great awakening, given Google’s ability to translate text into more than 100 languages.

How AI uncovers sentiment and emotions from text

Imagine automatically extracting the sentiment or emotional impact of a literary work. For a computer to understand a text, what is called natural language processing (NLP), AI algorithms first find a mathematical representation that a machine can understand and that contains maximal information about the text. A simple representation called “bag-of-words” (as the name implies) is a collection of words that appear together, but with no other particular nexus, from which the frequency of word groups could be ascertained. This may provide enough information for classifying themes, but would fail miserably at understanding sentences if word order is important.

Two representations that can quantify information associated with sentence word order are Word2Vec and GloVe. More about NLP representations can be learned from this tutorial, while a tutorial from TensorFlow on Word2vec is found here.

Once sentences are converted to a meaningful representation, a language model is needed that discerns positive emotions from negative emotions. One method would be to use a supervised learning procedure with deep neural networks, as has been done to understand movie reviews. Another way is to allow the deep neural network to discover the emotional patterns by itself. This is the true power behind deep learning: its ability to teach itself, and with more Big Data, to learn more.

Through this process, the ML can understand at text’s major themes (from the word groupings) and emotion. These factors are the fundamental ingredients for an AI application that will recommend a novel.

From creating Animal Farm summaries to discovering who will be the next Danielle Steel, AI is revolutionizing what and how we will read in the future.

For more on using ML to upend the competition, see Why Machine Learning and Why Now?

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JP George

About JP George

JP George grew up in a small town in Washington. After receiving a Master's degree in Public Relations, JP has worked in a variety of positions, from agencies to corporations all across the globe. Experience has made JP an expert in topics relating to leadership, talent management, and organizational business.

Could Governments Run By Artificial Intelligence Be A Good Thing?

Glen Sawyer

Put Skynet from The Terminator movies to the back of your mind for a minute, and stay with me on this one.

Certain political leaders are reminding us of their fragile humanity with increasing frequency these days. Prone to wild acts of emotion and unable to resist the urge to push their personal agenda at the expense of the greater good, it’s enough to make the concept of an AI-controlled government sound utopian by comparison.

I’m not quite naïve enough to think we’re already at a point where our human leaders could be replaced by an all-seeing, all-knowing, all-doing machine, but artificial intelligence and machine learning are becoming ever more tantalizing in their potential to simplify, accelerate, and improve many aspects of society and our lives.

Keeping reality in check

Governments are beginning to realize this. We’re already seeing small crumbs of evidence that they understand how AI can make public services more efficient and citizen-friendly. But these are very early days in discussing and figuring out how such technology could help us enforce laws, organize labor and welfare, and so on, in ways most people would be comfortable with.

And if the Facebook AI story is anything to go by, we’re still pretty spooked by the idea of an intelligence that can “think,” communicate, and potentially make decisions using methods we might not always understand, so a future in which we’re willingly ruled by a digital overlord remains very distant.

What’s more likely – dare I say, inevitable – is that governments will find ways to take advantage of AI in smaller increments, and this will eventually compound to form a political system in which machines are doing most of the “thinking” work.

Keeping humanity in check

Unless you believe the singularity is possible, that “thinking” will remain under the control of a far more streamlined government made up of regular, everyday humans. Our greatest hope is that the AI-run aspects of governance are powerful and transparent enough that those humans can’t get away with the deceit, selfishness, and emotion-based political decisions that plague us today.

That said, it would likely be a very different group of people to today running an AI government. If governments do come to rely heavily on technology, it could be a few technologists at the top of the tree – the ones who understand how it all works – who find themselves wielding immense power. With the likes of Mark Zuckerberg already accruing vast political influence to do with as they please, that’s a worrying prospect.

Keeping AI programmers in check

Thankfully, it won’t happen in the way some are fearing it might. Government decision-making is so complex, with so many interlinked aspects, that no one or small group of technological minds could comprehend and control it entirely. I also don’t believe people generally hold the Silicon Valley view that technology alone can solve everything. What I’m saying is, let’s embrace AI safe in the knowledge that collectively we’ll be able to keep it and its programmers in check.

If we do, we’re opening a whole new world of possibilities in efficient, logical, and honest governance. It’s essential we don’t let the same thing happen with a tech-run government that we’re letting happen with the internet – where power is consolidating into too few hands. That will take a combination of remembering the democratic principles that got us to this point and educating enough people to understand the technology overseeing us. I, for one, am optimistic we can get there. Please tell me I’m not alone.

This story originally appeared on the SAP Community.

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Glen Sawyer

About Glen Sawyer

Glen Sawyer is National Director of IoT Digital Transformation at SAP. 

The Future Will Be Co-Created

Dan Wellers and Timo Elliott

 

Just 3% of companies have completed enterprise digital transformation projects.
92% of those companies have significantly improved or transformed customer engagement.
81% of business executives say platforms will reshape industries into interconnected ecosystems.
More than half of large enterprises (80% of the Global 500) will join industry platforms by 2018.

Link to Sources


Redefining Customer Experience

Many business leaders think of the customer journey or experience as the interaction an individual or business has with their firm.

But the business value of the future will exist in the much broader, end-to-end experiences of a customer—the experience of travel, for example, or healthcare management or mobility. Individual companies alone, even with their existing supplier networks, lack the capacity to transform these comprehensive experiences.


A Network Effect

Rather than go it alone, companies will develop deep collaborative relationships across industries—even with their customers—to create powerful ecosystems that multiply the breadth and depth of the products, services, and experiences they can deliver. Digital native companies like Baidu and Uber have embraced ecosystem thinking from their early days. But forward-looking legacy companies are beginning to take the approach.

Solutions could include:

  • Packaging provider Weig has integrated partners into production with customers co-inventing custom materials.
  • China’s Ping An insurance company is aggressively expanding beyond its sector with a digital platform to help customers manage their healthcare experience.
  • British roadside assistance provider RAC is delivering a predictive breakdown service for drivers by acquiring and partnering with high-tech companies.

What Color Is Your Ecosystem?

Abandoning long-held notions of business value creation in favor of an ecosystem approach requires new tactics and strategies. Companies can:

1.  Dispassionately map the end-to-end customer experience, including those pieces outside company control.

2.  Employ future planning tactics, such as scenario planning, to examine how that experience might evolve.

3.  Identify organizations in that experience ecosystem with whom you might co-innovate.

4.  Embrace technologies that foster secure collaboration and joint innovation around delivery of experiences, such as cloud computing, APIs, and micro-services.

5.  Hire, train for, and reward creativity, innovation, and customer-centricity.


Evolve or Be Commoditized

Some companies will remain in their traditional industry boxes, churning out products and services in isolation. But they will be commodity players reaping commensurate returns. Companies that want to remain competitive will seek out their new ecosystem or get left out in the cold.


Download the executive brief The Future Will be Co-Created.


Read the full article The Future Belongs to Industry-Busting Ecosystems.

Turn insight into action, make better decisions, and transform your business.  Learn how.

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Dan Wellers

About Dan Wellers

Dan Wellers is founder and leader of Digital Futures at SAP, a strategic insights and thought leadership discipline that explores how digital technologies drive exponential change in business and society.

About Timo Elliott

Timo Elliott is an Innovation Evangelist for SAP and a passionate advocate of innovation, digital business, analytics, and artificial intelligence. He was the eighth employee of BusinessObjects and for the last 25 years he has worked closely with SAP customers around the world on new technology directions and their impact on real-world organizations. His articles have appeared in articles such as Harvard Business Review, Forbes, ZDNet, The Guardian, and Digitalist Magazine. He has worked in the UK, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and Silicon Valley, and currently lives in Paris, France. He has a degree in Econometrics and a patent in mobile analytics. 

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Blockchain: Much Ado About Nothing? How Very Wrong!

Juergen Roehricht

Let me start with a quote from McKinsey, that in my view hits the nail right on the head:

“No matter what the context, there’s a strong possibility that blockchain will affect your business. The very big question is when.”

Now, in the industries that I cover in my role as general manager and innovation lead for travel and transportation/cargo, engineering, construction and operations, professional services, and media, I engage with many different digital leaders on a regular basis. We are having visionary conversations about the impact of digital technologies and digital transformation on business models and business processes and the way companies address them. Many topics are at different stages of the hype cycle, but the one that definitely stands out is blockchain as a new enabling technology in the enterprise space.

Just a few weeks ago, a customer said to me: “My board is all about blockchain, but I don’t get what the excitement is about – isn’t this just about Bitcoin and a cryptocurrency?”

I can totally understand his confusion. I’ve been talking to many blockchain experts who know that it will have a big impact on many industries and the related business communities. But even they are uncertain about the where, how, and when, and about the strategy on how to deal with it. The reason is that we often look at it from a technology point of view. This is a common mistake, as the starting point should be the business problem and the business issue or process that you want to solve or create.

In my many interactions with Torsten Zube, vice president and blockchain lead at the SAP Innovation Center Network (ICN) in Potsdam, Germany, he has made it very clear that it’s mandatory to “start by identifying the real business problem and then … figure out how blockchain can add value.” This is the right approach.

What we really need to do is provide guidance for our customers to enable them to bring this into the context of their business in order to understand and define valuable use cases for blockchain. We need to use design thinking or other creative strategies to identify the relevant fields for a particular company. We must work with our customers and review their processes and business models to determine which key blockchain aspects, such as provenance and trust, are crucial elements in their industry. This way, we can identify use cases in which blockchain will benefit their business and make their company more successful.

My highly regarded colleague Ulrich Scholl, who is responsible for externalizing the latest industry innovations, especially blockchain, in our SAP Industries organization, recently said: “These kinds of use cases are often not evident, as blockchain capabilities sometimes provide minor but crucial elements when used in combination with other enabling technologies such as IoT and machine learning.” In one recent and very interesting customer case from the autonomous province of South Tyrol, Italy, blockchain was one of various cloud platform services required to make this scenario happen.

How to identify “blockchainable” processes and business topics (value drivers)

To understand the true value and impact of blockchain, we need to keep in mind that a verified transaction can involve any kind of digital asset such as cryptocurrency, contracts, and records (for instance, assets can be tangible equipment or digital media). While blockchain can be used for many different scenarios, some don’t need blockchain technology because they could be handled by a simple ledger, managed and owned by the company, or have such a large volume of data that a distributed ledger cannot support it. Blockchain would not the right solution for these scenarios.

Here are some common factors that can help identify potential blockchain use cases:

  • Multiparty collaboration: Are many different parties, and not just one, involved in the process or scenario, but one party dominates everything? For example, a company with many parties in the ecosystem that are all connected to it but not in a network or more decentralized structure.
  • Process optimization: Will blockchain massively improve a process that today is performed manually, involves multiple parties, needs to be digitized, and is very cumbersome to manage or be part of?
  • Transparency and auditability: Is it important to offer each party transparency (e.g., on the origin, delivery, geolocation, and hand-overs) and auditable steps? (e.g., How can I be sure that the wine in my bottle really is from Bordeaux?)
  • Risk and fraud minimization: Does it help (or is there a need) to minimize risk and fraud for each party, or at least for most of them in the chain? (e.g., A company might want to know if its goods have suffered any shocks in transit or whether the predefined route was not followed.)

Connecting blockchain with the Internet of Things

This is where blockchain’s value can be increased and automated. Just think about a blockchain that is not just maintained or simply added by a human, but automatically acquires different signals from sensors, such as geolocation, temperature, shock, usage hours, alerts, etc. One that knows when a payment or any kind of money transfer has been made, a delivery has been received or arrived at its destination, or a digital asset has been downloaded from the Internet. The relevant automated actions or signals are then recorded in the distributed ledger/blockchain.

Of course, given the massive amount of data that is created by those sensors, automated signals, and data streams, it is imperative that only the very few pieces of data coming from a signal that are relevant for a specific business process or transaction be stored in a blockchain. By recording non-relevant data in a blockchain, we would soon hit data size and performance issues.

Ideas to ignite thinking in specific industries

  • The digital, “blockchained” physical asset (asset lifecycle management): No matter whether you build, use, or maintain an asset, such as a machine, a piece of equipment, a turbine, or a whole aircraft, a blockchain transaction (genesis block) can be created when the asset is created. The blockchain will contain all the contracts and information for the asset as a whole and its parts. In this scenario, an entry is made in the blockchain every time an asset is: sold; maintained by the producer or owner’s maintenance team; audited by a third-party auditor; has malfunctioning parts; sends or receives information from sensors; meets specific thresholds; has spare parts built in; requires a change to the purpose or the capability of the assets due to age or usage duration; receives (or doesn’t receive) payments; etc.
  • The delivery chain, bill of lading: In today’s world, shipping freight from A to B involves lots of manual steps. For example, a carrier receives a booking from a shipper or forwarder, confirms it, and, before the document cut-off time, receives the shipping instructions describing the content and how the master bill of lading should be created. The carrier creates the original bill of lading and hands it over to the ordering party (the current owner of the cargo). Today, that original paper-based bill of lading is required for the freight (the container) to be picked up at the destination (the port of discharge). Imagine if we could do this as a blockchain transaction and by forwarding a PDF by email. There would be one transaction at the beginning, when the shipping carrier creates the bill of lading. Then there would be look-ups, e.g., by the import and release processing clerk of the shipper at the port of discharge and the new owner of the cargo at the destination. Then another transaction could document that the container had been handed over.

The future

I personally believe in the massive transformative power of blockchain, even though we are just at the very beginning. This transformation will be achieved by looking at larger networks with many participants that all have a nearly equal part in a process. Today, many blockchain ideas still have a more centralistic approach, in which one company has a more prominent role than the (many) others and often is “managing” this blockchain/distributed ledger-supported process/approach.

But think about the delivery scenario today, where goods are shipped from one door or company to another door or company, across many parties in the delivery chain: from the shipper/producer via the third-party logistics service provider and/or freight forwarder; to the companies doing the actual transport, like vessels, trucks, aircraft, trains, cars, ferries, and so on; to the final destination/receiver. And all of this happens across many countries, many borders, many handovers, customs, etc., and involves a lot of paperwork, across all constituents.

“Blockchaining” this will be truly transformational. But it will need all constituents in the process or network to participate, even if they have different interests, and to agree on basic principles and an approach.

As Torsten Zube put it, I am not a “blockchain extremist” nor a denier that believes this is just a hype, but a realist open to embracing a new technology in order to change our processes for our collective benefit.

Turn insight into action, make better decisions, and transform your business. Learn how.

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Juergen Roehricht

About Juergen Roehricht

Juergen Roehricht is General Manager of Services Industries and Innovation Lead of the Middle and Eastern Europe region for SAP. The industries he covers include travel and transportation; professional services; media; and engineering, construction and operations. Besides managing the business in those segments, Juergen is focused on supporting innovation and digital transformation strategies of SAP customers. With more than 20 years of experience in IT, he stays up to date on the leading edge of innovation, pioneering and bringing new technologies to market and providing thought leadership. He has published several articles and books, including Collaborative Business and The Multi-Channel Company.