SOCIETY | Feb 13, 2018

AI little exploited in Italy: data from the PoliMi Observatory

First data from the Artificial Intelligence Observatory of the Milan Polytechnic's School of Management

In Italy, 56% of large Italian companies have started Artificial Intelligence projects, compared with 70% in France and Germany.

This is just one of the figures emerging from the first edition of the Artificial Intelligence Observatory of the Milan Polytechnic’s School of Management and from the study on “Artificial Intelligence: perspectives from research to market”, which involved 721 companies and 469 cases of use of Artificial Intelligence, referring to 337 international and Italian companies.

Most Artificial Intelligence projects in Italy – 52% of which are already fully operational and 48% still in the planning phase – are concentrated in the sectors of banking, finance and insurance (17%), automotive (17%), energy (13%), logistics (10%) and telecommunications (10%).

With regard to the use of AI, processes of relations with the end customer, such as Marketing, Sales and Customer Service, are those most affected by the development of new projects.

Which are the areas of application in the company?

Artificial Intelligence is called Intelligent Data Processing in 35% of cases, that is the use of algorithms to extract information and start actions based on the information extracted. This is followed by Virtual Assistants or Chatbots (25%), Recommendation solutions (10%), or customized recommendations for orienting customer decisions at different points in the purchase process; Image Processing (8%), or image analysis for biometric recognition and information extraction; self-driving  cars (7%); and Intelligent Object (7%), able to perform actions without human intervention, interacting with the surrounding environment through sensors and learning from the actions of the people who use them. Still little used, with only 4% of the companies interviewed having introduced them to the company, are Language Processing, useful for the re-elaboration of language for understanding a text, translating it or producing it autonomously from data and documents, and Autonomous Robots.

AI or Chatbot?

Chatbots, chosen by 25% of those interviewed, are undoubtedly among the most interesting solutions in the field of AI. As noted in the study, these are nothing more than “software agents able to perform actions and provide services for an individual, based on commands received through an interaction with the user in the following ways: text-to-text, text-to-speech, speech-to-text or speech-to-speech”.

These instruments are mostly used for after-sales customer support (87%), including the 25 cases examined in which the Chatbot listens to the conversation with the employee, understands the customer’s mood and communicates it to the operator so that they can change their approach with the customer; Shop Assistant (46%), where “bots” give information about the characteristics of the products and services offered (including shipping times, availability in stock, etc.); buying guides (27%), which unlike shop assistants aim to understand the type of potential purchase that the customer intends to make.

Artificial Intelligence or fewer jobs?

The specific research session on the impact of AI on employment aims to investigate the fears that automation brings with it: the answer that the report gives to the question related to the direct ratio between introduction of AI into the company and a drop in jobs is the same as that “we find in economic history books: in all previous revolutions not only have final balances never been achieved with a level of lower employment but, above all, employment has always grown in quality: no one today would like to return to the type of tasks of the socio-economic fabric even only 30 years ago”.

The data presented draw an encouraging picture, showing a heightened not diminished labor demand in AI projects. An increase related above all to “technically more qualified and more senior professional figures, therefore figures who, with their experience, are capable of governing this innovation”.

Also highlighted is the fact that AI solutions are seen in the company more as an external competitive lever for improving services and quality than as an instrument aimed at increasing internal efficiency. There is strong awareness by companies about the sensitivity of the issue and their will to carefully select projects and initiatives to be activated, considering both the expected benefits and “the external and internal acceptability of innovation”.

What are the opportunities for AI?

“In so far as technology can be complex, say Alessandro Perego and Stefano Tubaro, respectively Director of the Management Engineering Department and Director of the Electronics, Information and Bioengineering Department of the Milan Polytechnic, “the basic idea when speaking of ​​artificial intelligence is very simple: to develop machines with autonomous learning and adaptation abilities that are inspired by human learning models, able to adapt to the surrounding context and pursue a result independently. The fields of application are innumerable and many of these could have major impacts on the activities of companies and public administrations, as well as change – hopefully for the better – the lives of people: Self-driving Cars, Robotic Process Automation, Intelligent Objects, Chatbots, Recommendation Engines and Advanced Analytics are just some of the terms that encapsulate the scenarios of application”