AI for Everyone? Kind of

Recently, Salesforce started a campaign concerning their latest product offering, Einstein. This einsteinplane1campaign promises, “AI for Everyone”.

That is quite a claim and Salesforce is certainly not the first to make it. As a self-proclaimed AI Enthusiast/junkie, I can say that I have seen this type of claim before. However, this is the first time that I think it might actually be somewhat possible. At least as far as a specific area of AI known as deep learning is concerned. And, also if were talking about relating this just to Salesforce in particular.

So, does this mean that soon everyone will have personal robot butlers?

Absolutely not. We are not even beginning to talk about robotics here. Nor some other areas that fall under the rather large AI umbrella.

So what can Salesforce customers do with Einstein?

Well that will certainly change as the product evolves, but right now the most relevant thing you can do with it is to utilize the Predictive Vision Service (PVS). This can be used to classify images into categories using supervised learning and very specifically optimized machine learning algorithms. These algorithms were developed by a company called MetaMind, which was last year aquired by Salesforce and since then they have been working feverishly to offer their services on the platform.

If you are interested in learning more about how this works, check out the docs here or this recently released webinar, which does a very good job of laying out what is currently possible with the PVS.

Note that currently Salesforce is not offering a service that does Natural Language Processing (NLP).  But, I am sure that will be the next big thing Salesforce customers will be demanding. NLP is a huge field and one that has been around for many years, but with varying levels of success.  The most difficult challenge I suspect will come from the fact that the product will need to support several languages beyond English to be considered useful. It will also need to be able to handle untrained users with a high degree of accuracy, which is a very tall order to fill.

It appears to me that the majority of Einstein’s capabilities will be “Baked in” to many of Salesforce’s products and their use should be seamless to users. They will also be very specific to Salesforce CRM.

The most important thing to understand is that Einstein is NOT a general purpose AI engine. As enthusiastic as the Salesforce Marketing team obviously is, Salesforce has not reinvented the wheel and certainly not developed some new and unheard form of AI that will corner the market.

BUT, they have started to offer some very useful API’s that can be used to implement specific areas of AI that were once only accessible to the elite of AI researchers.

And the most promising news was just announced this month when a group from Salesforce Research created a neural network named the Dynamic Coattention Network and that model was the first to break the 80% mark when tested against the Stanford Question Answering Dataset. And for those of you that just said to yourselves, “and why should I care about that?”.

Well, ever since Stanford released their dataset, which now consists of questions posed by crowdworkers on a set of Wikipedia articles, lots of top AI researchers (including Microsoft, Google and IBM) have been racing to create models that will reach this golden threshold, but Salesforce was the first to reach it. It’s kind of a big deal.

I look forward to the next few years and seeing all the new services that will be added to the platform, bringing about the Enhanced Computing world I always envisioned.

What Ever Happened to Enhanced Computing?

FirstBookIt is hard to believe, but it has been 11 years since my first book,Building Intelligent .NET Applications: Agents, Data Mining, Rule-Based Systems, and Speech Processing was released.

In that book I introduced the term “Enhanced Computing”, to identify software programs that utilize AI-based technologies to improve and extend traditional line of business applications. This was actually the whole premise of my book. Unfortunately, the term Enhanced Computing never really caught on, but a lot of the technologies I wrote about in that book have continued to advance and show great potential to dominate the technological landscape of tomorrow.

One thing I found interesting is that in my book I also wrote about something called the “AI Effect“, in which people observed that once a technology becomes widely accepted it is no longer associated with AI. Most recently there has been an explosion in the media concerning IOT (Internet of Things) and machine learning. Both of these concepts are firmly grounded in AI, yet you rarely see AI mentioned when referencing them. AI Effect? Must be, I think.

I was very excited to see this article about What’s Next in Computing?, in which the author goes into great detail about how we are poised for another technological revolution in which he predicts that we may have finally entered the golden age of AI.At the forefront of that is machine learning (or Data Mining as I refered to it 11 years ago).

Machine Learning and the use of Neural Networks has long been of great interest to me so I was particularly pleased to see this recent article, The cloud is finally making machine learning practical. Even though the article focused on machine learning using Amazon Web Services algorithm’s and Microsoft’s Azure machine-learning service, I see no reason why the same things could not happen on the Salesforce platform.

After all, with the recent release from Yahoo of their News Feed dataset, which is a sample of anonymized user interactions in the news feeds and is over 1.5 TB (that’s right, Terabytes) in size, all sorts of things may be possible for researchers independently exploring deep learning techniques. Especially those fueled by the cloud (hint, hint, wink, wink).

There have also been many advances in image recognition, due to other advances in deep learning, which have suddenly thrust AI more into the mainstream. In this recent article on Why 2015 was a Breakthrough Year in Artificial Intelligence, a Google researcher states, “Computers used to not be able to see very well, and now they’re starting to open their eyes.”

In fact, just this week Mastercard announced it is offering a new security app that allows people to take a selfie in order to confirm their identity. It is called, “Selfie Pay”. Way Cool!!! I am pretty sure that one is going to take off soon.

EDIT on 2/29/16: And then, there was this announcement several days after I wrote this post that Salesforce acquires Machine-learning Startup PredictionIO. I am sure they just read my post and the hint, hint, wink, wink part and that is why they purchased them (LOL) Just Kidding, but talk about timing, eh?

So, here’s to the future of <whatever it might be called next>!!!