Artificial intelligence, predictive analytics, and machine learning offer much promise to companies and consumers. For businesses, these intelligent technologies provide precision and efficiency, as well as a glimpse of untapped markets and new customer segments that can change a company’s trajectory. For consumers, these technologies result in more efficiency and personalization, letting them find what they’re looking for—or even what they didn’t know they wanted—more quickly and easily.
As intelligent technologies continue to mature and proliferate, companies need to learn how best to navigate a fast-changing competitive landscape. That challenge was the topic of the recent HARMAN Technology Forum, a Las Vegas event that gathered leading thinkers from the technology, automotive, retail, marketing, and cybersecurity communities to talk candidly about the future of intelligent technology—both its promises and its pain points.
Here are five key takeaways from the keynote speeches and panel discussions:
1. DATA IS JET FUEL
Data is the fuel propelling intelligent technologies forward. Technologies such as AI and machine learning require data—in massive, mind-bending amounts—to reach their fullest potential. But the sheer volume of that data threatens to overwhelm us unless we can figure out how to decipher what it all means. “We are so good at collecting data,” said keynote speaker Paul C. Zikopoulos, vice president of Big Data, Cognitive Systems, at IBM. “But how good are we at understanding data? Not so good.”
Zikopoulos says AI and other technologies can not only help give meaning to the data we collect, but also will make it possible to build the algorithms and other tools that let us truly harness that data.
Data needs to be handled very, very carefully; if those collecting it don’t proceed with caution, they risk getting burned. “We talk a lot about data, but what we have to remember also is you have to have digital trust with the consumer,” said Nicholas Parotta, chief digital and information officer at HARMAN. “You have to protect the consumer.”
2. RECOGNIZE TECHNOLOGY FATIGUE
In a push to make every customer interaction frictionless and hyper-efficient, retailers may balk at the idea of slowing things down. But there’s value in giving the machines a rest and letting humans step in, said Juliet Noland, senior director of strategic planning at TracyLocke, a marketing-services agency that’s part of DDB Worldwide. Retailers might reach out to a customer every few months to invite them to a store event or encourage them to have a more hands-on and human-to-human shopping experience. “There’s an opportunity for ritualized moderation, if you will—actually inviting consumers to step out of the routine that you’ve built for them,” Noland said. “You can really nurture a human relationship that supplements and augments the digital online relationship.”
This ritualized moderation, as Noland puts it, extends well beyond the retail world. Take the increasingly connected automobile. Robert Herjavec, CEO of the Herjavec Group and a star on the TV show Shark Tank, mentioned in his keynote speech that he loves the idea of getting into an autonomous vehicle and spending his morning commute working on his laptop. But on the weekends, Herjavec—an experienced racecar driver—wants to be in control. “I don’t want to connect my phone to it. I don’t need CarPlay,” he said. “I just want a great driving experience.… I think the perfect combination in the future will be a vehicle that allows people to experience both.”
3. GET PERSONAL … BUT NOT TOO PERSONAL
Consumers largely embrace the personalization that technologies such as AI can deliver. It can suggest a pair of shoes you might not have considered, or use your preference for one product to suggest another you might to try. But as Chris Smith warned, consumers also can react strongly when they feel that personalization crosses a line from cool to creepy. “Serve me up my data in the wrong way, and you lose me right away,” he said.
Online retail giant Zappos has made efforts to incorporate intelligent technology into the customer journey without making it a requirement. In fact, the company offers users plenty of opportunities to opt out of product recommendations and other ways of personalizing their shopping experience. “One thing we’ve learned is that part of personalizing is knowing when not to personalize,” said Ameen Kazerouni, Zappos’ lead data scientist. “There’s going to be a group of your customer base that does not want to be messed with in their digital experience, and you need to be able to identify that fast and be extremely respectful of that.”
4. EMBRACE PARTNERSHIPS
By their very nature, intelligent technologies require collaboration to truly work. HARMAN President and Chief Executive Officer Dinesh Paliwal noted that partnerships have been critical to the company’s growth, whether through collaborations with automotive companies, retailers, or enterprise clients. He pointed to HARMAN’s work with the NBA’s Sacramento Kings to create a unique in-seat A/V interface that lets fans order food and drinks directly to their stadium seats. These partnerships are important because the breakneck pace of technological change can require companies to band together simply to stay current. “Frankly, you can only be as fast as your ecosystem is,” Paliwal said. “And that means collaboration.”
Companies also should broaden their view of partnerships beyond B2B—they also need to consider collaborating with the public sector. Joanna Peña-Bickley, head of design, Internet of Things at Amazon AWS, cited unique partnerships between companies, governments, and public stakeholders in Europe and China to discuss the potential for integrating connected cars into smart-city planning. These collaborative efforts can lead to safer, less congested, and more efficient roadways—while allowing the public to weigh in on whether the experiments make sense for their communities.
5. DON’T FORGET ABOUT BOOMERS
Much of the discussion around intelligent technology focuses on digital natives such as millennials and Gen Z. To attract this lucrative audience, the thinking goes, you need to deliver the convenience, features, and experiences these younger users increasingly expect. But the aging baby-boomer population may be the first to use many of these technologies, to augment their healthcare and assisted mobility. Older consumers are a large and growing audience for solutions driven by intelligent technology.
Take cars, for instance. Advanced automotive safety features such as blind spot monitoring and adaptive cruise control are reducing the likelihood of crashes. And more sophisticated emerging technologies such as smart seatbelts—which aim to identify when drivers are having medical episodes—are helping to make driving safer for older people. “The boomers are actually some of the earlier adopters to some of these things,” said Peña-Bickley of Amazon AWS. “They’re looking to stay on the road longer. And so more assistance in the vehicle and a better experience is always going to sell.”
Similarly, older adults are keenly interested in technologies that can help them maintain their independence as they age, said TracyLocke’s Noland. She noted that technologies such as voice assistance would increasingly find favor with this older audience: “You’re going to start to see more applications develop that go down the compassionate companionship route that will really change the way we think about AI and its role in our lives.”
Ultimately, intelligent technology will give rise to new technologies and applications—many we haven’t even begun to imagine. Continual advancement will open new doors, and smart approaches to technology will help guide innovation in positive, powerful directions. “Some of this work is really hype driven. It’s really in dream world,” says HARMAN’s Paliwal. “But that hype is very important. It allows us to set the strategic vision of where we want to be.”