M+E Connections

Salesforce’s Chief Scientist: AI Research Continues in Force

After the recent introduction of the Salesforce Einstein artificial intelligence (AI) platform, the company is continuing to conduct AI research because there is still much more that can be done with the technology, according to Richard Socher, its chief scientist and ex-CEO of MetaMind, a company that Salesforce acquired earlier this year.

Research was a big part of what MetaMind did and that work continues now with Salesforce, he said in an interview that was webcast from the company’s Dreamforce conference in San Francisco Oct. 4.

“AI is in this stage where some things we already know work really well, [but] in other cases we still have to do research,” he said. Socher went on to say that one important area being studied is multi-task learning, where “a single model can continue to learn from all kinds of different inputs and continue to get smarter and evolve and eventually be able to solve a whole host of different problems,” including understanding email and “understanding all kinds of textual and visual inputs in a single joint model.”

Three key things “have changed in technology that have really empowered AI to now become useful,” he added, pointing to the growth in available data, good infrastructures, and advances in algorithms.

In a keynote presentation earlier in the day at Dreamforce, Tom Davenport, a professor at Babson College, pointed to the “shopping spree of AI” companies that Salesforce has been involved in of late that included its purchase of yet another AI company, Krux, earlier in the week (https://www.mesaonline.org/2016/10/04/salesforce-buys-krux/).

Salesforce has been buying the AI companies, at least in part, “because in customer-facing processes, we can’t solve all of [the] problems with traditional technology,” he said. There is just too much data to analyze today, and much of it is “problematic” data in some way, he said, adding most of the time companies spend on data tends to be cleaning it all up.

During the same keynote session, George Colony, CEO of research company Forrester, warned that “there’s a massive challenge” that lies ahead and companies must confront and meet that challenge over the next couple of years. Power is shifting away from institutions (corporations and governments) and towards customers, and for companies to succeed they must successfully provide what customers want, he said.

This shift to customer power has been “driven by technology primarily – the ability to price very precisely, the ability to gather information very precisely, the ability to buy anywhere,” Colony said. He predicted that we are “entering a 20-year period” he called the “age of the customer” that follows the age of manufacturing, the age of distribution and the age of information. Power will continue to shift towards the customer over the next 20 years, he predicted.

Customers are, more than ever, “willing to experiment” with and adopt new technologies, he said, adding that we’re seeing a “much faster uptake for new products from the customer than we saw even two to three years ago.” He pointed to the popularity quickly achieved by Amazon’s AI-based Alexa voice service that powers products including Echo.

“The web is a dying technology” that is being replaced by, among other things, mobility, he said. Another example of that phenomenon was provided by Google’s introduction of the Pixel smartphones Oct. 4 – products that he said the company felt it had to offer to continue being relevant amid the shift from computers to mobile devices.