Companies across a diverse range of industries are using artificial intelligence to streamline data management and analytics, gain a competitive edge and find new ways to drive growth. As more companies look to capitalize on AI technologies for their data-driven decision making, there’s a demand by businesses to find ways to avail themselves of AI quickly and cost effectively. AI is starting to emerge as a service, and I see 2020 being the year that AI as a Service (AIaaS) explodes onto the market.
In the past, companies required massive amounts of computing power and internal experts to use AI within their companies - the software system would cost them a fortune. Now, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, IBM and other companies with large public cloud infrastructure and AI platforms that are able to combine these two capabilities are realizing that there’s a market in providing AI as a Service to companies. This democratizes AI because now, potentially anyone can use it.
AI as a Service can potentially benefit any business. Rather than spending time installing and developing the technology, AIaaS gives companies the power of AI without them having to become experts first.
AI platform providers make AIaaS an affordable, accessible option for traditional companies. Businesses that aren't technology experts but need AI capability on a project basis will be able turn it on when they want to use it and turn it off when they don't. This pay-as-you-go model, which works so well with other technologies, saves smaller companies significant money because they are accessing advanced infrastructure at a fraction of the cost and are not running AI nonstop.
AIaas is going to spread into every conceivable industry, from agriculture and medicine, to music and education. We are seeing interesting examples here in Ireland - In October, Novartis and Microsoft announced a collaboration designed to find ways to combine Microsoft’s advanced AI technology with Novartis’ life sciences expertise. On average, it costs life sciences companies $2.6 billion to introduce a single new prescription drug. The plan is that Microsoft and Novartis will use AI for drug development, from research and clinical trials to manufacturing and operation. They say they will work on new treatments for macular degeneration, and new gene and treatment therapies for acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Using AI will make these activities less costly.
Novartis by definition is not an AI expert, and building the infrastructure needed to do this work would have cost them hundreds of millions of dollars. Working with Microsoft’s AI platform, Novartis will be able to bring together research, medical journal articles, clinical trial results and mountains of other unstructured data that is typically stored in disconnected systems.
Google, Microsoft and Amazon all have significant portions of their global infrastructure in Ireland, and a big chunk of the engineering talent that builds and maintains their cloud and AI systems is there as well. As AIaaS is being used by both European and US companies based in Europe, these companies will draw on the overall infrastructure that will meet the demands of the AI services industry. In Europe, a consideration for AI is data compliance and data protection - which is still very, very important. Violators of GDPR can face a hefty fee of 4% of their global income. We are seeing clients in Europe chose to work with public cloud and AIaaS providers because the level of data protection they can provide is too expensive to replicate by smaller companies.
Yes, absolutely. Cyberattacks are a big challenge to organizations at the moment. AI‑enabled cyberattacks are going to be even more of a challenge. It’s why it’s so important for businesses to procure AIaaS from high‑profile tech companies that have made the required investment in cybersecurity and protect their infrastructure and clients using it.
Organizations that use the service need to be ready for it. It cannot just be a raw service. Unless you have some internal technical capabilities, you're probably going to need some professional advice from consultants or the AI platform provider to help you make the most of the services and avoid some of the hurdles that can accompany AI.
Shane Nolan is SVP at IDA Ireland, where he helps technology companies in business and consumer markets learn how Ireland can be a resource as they expand and grow. You can reach Shane at Shane.Nolan@ida.ie.
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