The future of AI lies in predictability

In an exclusive conversation with Indian Retailer, Tata Elxsi Senior Vice President (Marketing) Nitin Pai tells us why its a scary ride if these islands of data were connected.
‘The future of AI lies in predictability’

It’s sophisticated, non-intrusive and multi-layered. It knows what you like, what you don’t. What you searched, what you want and even gives you options even before you. Welcome to the world of artificial intelligence (AI) that has entered every layer of a consumer. There are islands of consumer data available with retailers that are not connected, yet that’s making our lives easier.

Let’s start with understanding how AI is impacting the Indian market, especially the retail and FMCG industries.

On one hand, AI was already there, but it’s just that a consumer never realized it’s been around in action. Especially, in online commerce, sophisticated recommendation engines are gathering information about consumers based on their past searches and are putting up an image of a consumer. So with the data that’s already available, these engines are only curating the options to make choices easier for a consumer. Even in real retail, a shopkeeper never gives 1,000 options because decision making becomes tougher and he only pushes to buy certain products. These sales guys are trained to allow a consumer make a purchase. Digitally, this is just replicatedwith what humans do in a store. Since there is no human in online commerce, AI is doing the job. You can find AI in everything from entertainment in Netflix to content in Amazon. Just to cite an example, recommendations on Netflix get better with time because the understanding of a consumer gets better with AI. It’s just that any platform that is digitized already has AI at work. AI is sophisticated, non-intrusive and it’s non-obvious.  

Speaking about content, do you think ecommerce marketplace has changed the way AI is used in India?

Not really. Eretail has solved a lot of friction in humans in the process of buying. Typically, ashopping cycle starts with where to go, what stocks the seller has and will you find what you are looking for. What etail has done is aggregated everything and digitized the process of buying. The fundamental proposition of ecommerce is not AI and AI only brings the market to a consumer. 

But do you think if we had better ways of engaging consumer data, there could have been better use of AI?

Yes and no. Firstly, nobody has complete data of a consumer and they all have fragmented data. What Amazon knows, Facebook doesn’t. So it’s all islands of data which are not connected to each other, but again if it’s all connected that’s scarier because the retailers have a definitive consumer image which is incredibly complete. So there is higher level of sophistication with AI but because these islands of data are not connected, we have not reached the next level.

What do you think are the challenges for retailers to adopt AI?

Earlier, there have been challenges because there was no access to computing and one had to build their own platform from the scratch. These algorithms were proprietary, which still are, but now many industries are selling services and building platforms for retailers which are making the whole process of adopting any new technology easy. 

But do you think consumers in India are ready enough to adapt to all these technological innovations?

Well, we can say we are starting to build the trust in consumers. We are not fully there, but we are in that direction. We still believe humans can make better decisions than computers and in some sectors it will take more time than the others to build that trust. For instance, healthcare is one such sector. Although AI is already present in this sector, we still believein the reassurance of a doctor. Even with higher level of digitization, consumers will take more time to get adapted to it.  

While using AI, where do we stand when compared with our global counterparts, especially the West?

They have great AI talent. So, the basis of AI is Math, Statistics and data. There is no lack of talent in India but we lack the ability to apply AI to make money. When compared to global players, we have equal opportunities like them or eve more but we lack the ability to apply AI and make money of it. Also, there, the data availability is better than us. We do not have enough data and that’s the problem. There is data, but that is not digitized which means there’s no accurate use of data.   

So how is Elxsi bridging the gap in the industry?  

The future of AI lies in predictability and that’s what we are building. For instance, in the US and Europe, we are working with AI in network which will can predict if a set-top box is going to be out of service in the next couple of days. This way we can avert the inconvenience and keep the consumer informed. In retail, the journey is about how do we deliver positives of physical retail but remove the pains of digital retail. The big question is how to enhance the experience of shopping with AI and how to improve customer experience. 

The most important question everybody has- will AI take away jobs?

AI will definitely disrupt many sectors, however,in places where qualitative and quantitative decisions have to be taken, these jobs can’t be replaced. Maybe even creative jobs can’t be replaced because humans place a lot of emotions to music, art and others.



Nitin Pai