Standing on the edge of a canyon, looking across at the craggy rock wall on the opposite side of the valley, it’s hard to imagine the barely-visible river at the bottom is responsible for the vast and glorious expanse before me.

Intellectually is easy to understand that the scene is the result of generations of rushing water scratching away at soft rock, working its way through and around harder rock, to create a steep-walled river valley, and over, time a canyon. Yet the landscape is so vast, the details so fine, and the scene so beautiful, it’s hard to connect the process with the final outcome.

As I attended the recent CanadianCIO Innovation Summit sponsored by Cogeco Peer 1, it became clear to me this same scenario is being played out in the world of technology, with artificial intelligence taking on the starring role as the force set to alter the landscape in unimaginable ways.

AI opportunities are on the horizon

The speakers at the conference, including two of Canada’s top AI specialists, were unanimous in the view that the AI trickle – most visible today in email management, banking applications, and Internet searches algorithms – will soon become a flood, washing away legacy approaches to IT activities, harnessing the power of the cloud and big data to create new and financially beautiful opportunities.

Nicolas Chapados, the chief science officer at Element AI, a Montreal organization dedicated to helping business embrace the power of AI for business change, believes the AI revolution will have the same future-altering impact as the invention of flight or the introduction of the Internet.

If he’s right, and we are aware enough to share the awe and wonder felt by the first witnesses to early flight or the excitement vibrating through the network of university professors that cobbled together the interconnectivity protocols foundational of the Internet, we are equally blind to the possibilities that can unfold.

It’s hard to imagine the impossible…but let’s try

Could witnesses to the Wright brothers first flight in 1903 have imagined the moment would be the pre-cursor to space travel? Could a college professor working long into the night on chalkboard calculations for packet switching theory imagine his granddaughter would be using a version of the Internet to perform remote surgery? Unlikely.

While the changes in flight and with the Internet have been dramatic, progress has always come in iterations. In aviation, there was the move from props, to jet engines to rocket engines. With the Internet, a dark screen where you played pong has evolved into an e-commerce paradise where anyone with a modem, connectivity and an idea, can hawk their goods around the world.

The question for entrepreneurs and businesses development specialists along the way has always been at one point to jump in. Does the early adopter have the advantage or should a company wait until it sees a proven opportunity and then shape it to its customers’ needs? The same question applies to AI.

Don’t be late to the AI party

With the trickle about to become a flood, Chapados argues you’d better get into the water and learn how to swim.

“The current process is human-driven, aided by machines,” he says. “Project yourself 10 years into the future and most organizations will run on AI helped by humans.”

Graham Taylor, a University of Guelph professor working on the integration of sensory stimuli into artificial intelligence and deep learning systems, was equally certain a big change is at hand.

Fundamentally current AI applications simply analyze data at incredible speeds and make predictions that allow for efficiency and cost savings. He says in the near future, “we’ll be moving into a world where machines are not just predicting, but they’re creating. Yes, music, art, poetry, and prose.”

Change is good…really

With big companies in banking, energy or transportation already being disrupted, the immediate future is clear: change in order to survive. Fear and a lack of regulation will hold back some small and middle size companies, but as the opportunities to streamline business become more evident, they will adopt AI, one iteration at a time.

The longer-term future is less clear, just as it was for the witnesses to the first flight or that professor at his chalkboard. How deeply or how quickly artificial intelligence and deep learning will carve its way through the landscape is a matter of speculation.

But we know it will be powered by data and the cloud. And that’s where Cogeco Peer 1 excels. Whether you need help with your network infrastructure, your data centre security, or you’re weighing your public vs. hybrid cloud options, we have the trained staff ready with the tools and the services required so that together we can build the bridge across that chasm into the future.

Check out the Cogeco Peer 1 website to learn more about our range of products and services.

Want to learn more about the impact of AI on business in Canada? Cogeco is proud to be a premium sponsor of Technicity 2017 The half-day event, held in conjunction with the City of Toronto, will explore the way AI is already driving business and government today.

@JaimeLeverton

 



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