Unlocking the future of AI in business: IoT, 5G, Fiber

by Theodora (Theo) Lau, Founder, Unconventional Ventures and AT&T Business Influencer

This post was sponsored by AT&T Business, but the opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent AT&T Business’s positions or strategies.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has been garnering much attention lately and is causing business leaders to contemplate the future of AI in business and what its considerations may be. AI chatbots and various generative AI tools have upended the way we work and how we live. Along with these upheavals come conversations around the impact of such technology on regulations, ethics, and responsibility.

There are two prominent branches of AI—conversational AI and generative AI. Conversational AI enables computers to understand, process, and simulate human conversation. Generative AI relies on various data sets to learn patterns and create content with predictive patterns. This powerful emerging technology can produce various kinds of content, including text, imagery, audio, and synthetic data. Both are being used across industries to deliver better efficiencies, more reliable outcomes, and improvements in the customer experience.

In healthcare, generative AI can analyze a patient’s symptoms and medical history to help healthcare providers create a personalized treatment plan. In financial services, it can spot fraud and anomalies that threaten data security. The transportation industry benefits through AI integration in telematics for improved driver safety. And in manufacturing, generative AI is ushering in human-robotics collaboration, which can help improve operational efficiency and safety.

Generative AI offers applications for office workers as well. In the hybrid work environment, for example, AI works in the background to provide automatic translation, remove background noise during calls, or even summarize meeting recordings with highlights and action items.

As AI continues to gain momentum, it has the potential to unlock benefits from new use cases for more people, and help companies introduce new products and services that weren’t possible before. Will we, for example, see the rise of connected AI where intelligent machines interact with each other? What’s next for our connected future?

Understanding AI and the interconnected world of fiber, 5G, and IoT

The future of AI in business is intrinsic to our hyper-connected world. AI is embedded in every aspect of our lives, and business fiber internet and 5G networks provides ultra-fast connectivity and enables immersive experience like never before. It’s bridging the physical distance between us and enabling a new future marked by global connectivity—powered by AI and human ingenuity.

To support the surge in data demands driven by the growing digital economy and the exponential adoption of AI everywhere, data centers need to be adapted to meet the next-level connectivity needs and data-crunching capacity that will be required. Add to that, they need to be environmentally sustainable to support lower greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) through better energy efficiency.

In many ways, fiber and 5G are the indispensable right-hand to AI applications. Many of the new use cases are possible today because of on-premise edge solutions such as AT&T Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC) that bring computing power to the edge of the wireless network to process data in near-real time. And in manufacturing, for example, it has the added benefit of improved energy efficiency.

So what are these AI applications and what benefits do they bring to our society?

Smart cars and the benefits of AI in transportation

One of the most prominent use cases for the future of AI in business is connected cars. These vehicles function as a mobile internet hotspot, communicating with the outside world, including the passengers, other smart cars, and road infrastructure, all through the wireless network. This trend caters to the increasing demand for in-car entertainment and navigation services, as well as dependency on technology in an always-on world.

But connected cars are just the beginning. Equipped with sensors and the ability to make independent driving decisions and movements, connected autonomous vehicles promise to change the future of work and travel. Imagine a day when all public transportation is driverless, where passengers can navigate effortlessly from one form of vehicle to another, or rather, a seamless mobile extension of your office, all part of the smart city grid.

And depending on the stages of AI development, from no automation to full automation, where AI can drive independently, AI can be especially beneficial to long haul delivery, ensuring the fleets keep running around the clock and in a safe manner.

A car is no longer just a car—it’s a data platform on wheels.

The possibilities are endless. A smart city is more than an extension of smart homes—and more than just hot spots and digital technology. It’s a concept of living, driven and optimized by responsible use of data and resources. Think more efficient means of lighting, cooling, and heating. More efficient transportation networks and work environments. Along with that, safer and greener public spaces catered to the changing needs of the populace.

Of course, infrastructure and technology still need to be evolved before we can get to this future state and take advantage of the full benefits of what AI can bring. This is especially true when it comes to data: ethical use and safety must be carefully considered.

How AI enables industrial and service robotics

With more bandwidth for sharing data with AI models, and with the ability to connect more sensors, devices, and people, we can now explore opportunities that we were not able to before.

The use of robotics on factory floors and warehouses is a great example. While industrial robots have been deployed in factories (e.g. automotive) since the 1970s, they are mostly machines with programmable axes that can execute certain tasks according to instructions. The newer robots, such as intelligent autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs), are defining the future of AI in business.

Mobile robots that can navigate an environment independently and perform a set of tasks. Logistics robots, for example, have grown in popularity in the past few years, helping to safely deliver supplies, documents, and food. There are also cobots (collaborative robots), that have built-in safety features and are designed to work side-by-side with humans. Inventory robots patrol store aisles and send near real-time inventory data to help keep the shelves stocked.

With improved unit economics and technology, adoption of robotic automation is expected to increase. Besides cost savings that are the results of more efficient operations and other factors, these robots can also help keep the work environment safe by taking over labor intensive or dangerous tasks. And since they can function continuously without pauses, companies will be incentivized to increase the automation scope, growing the range of tasks that the robots can perform autonomously.

With continued advances in AI and machine learning, we should expect to see new use cases beyond industrial robotics. One of the promising areas is the use of service robots to help with the activities of daily living (ADLs) for those with limited mobility. This can enable them to maintain a level of independence and help alleviate some of the responsibilities of their caregivers at the same time.

Creating something that people interface with daily and use with ease will require more than technology and bandwidth. We’ll need to leverage design thinking techniques and have the proper guardrails in place to ensure privacy and security of data. Coupled with affordability and useful features and functionality, this will go a long way in creating practical consumer-facing solutions for our changing demographics.

AI in agritech and fintech

While we’re on the topic of robotics in the future of AI for business, agriculture is another industry that employs a wide range of these machines. Agritech—agricultural technology—is revolutionizing the industry. Autonomous tractors guided by GPS are used for seeding and fertilizing in the fields, or for soil preparation and crop harvesting. Robots and sensors are also used to detect soil moisture and plant health, allowing farmers to make data-driven decisions for timely crop management, including irrigation and fertilization. In tighter spaces such as greenhouses, robots with flexible arms are used to pick fruits and vegetables. These bots are equipped with vision systems to detect if the produce is ripe enough for picking.

With such an abundance of data generated by devices in the field, the next big trend will be finding new opportunities to allow farmers to leverage the data and insights. In fintech—financial technology—for example, drones equipped with image-sensing technologies are used to verify the crops that small hold farmers are growing, enabling them to get microloans needed to operate and/or expand the farms. Similarly, when a climate event such as flooding occurs, drones can be dispatched by the insurance company to survey the damage so that the appropriate payout can be made in a timely manner without having to wait for a human agent to survey the site.

How AI is enabling better collaboration and smart buildings

Whether we work from home, at the office, or as a digital nomad, technology has become an indispensable part of our work lives. How we work and collaborate with others has also evolved as a result.

One of the biggest changes we have witnessed in recent years is increased flexibility in where we work and how we work. As such, we have seen an increase in productivity solutions that are designed to connect workers anytime anywhere. Secure, mobile-first, and unified collaboration experience over 5G and broadband are now a reality, along with real time capabilities such as closed captioning, translation, noise removal, and white boarding, unlocking new opportunities and experiences powered by AI and connectivity.

Innovations are not limited to the digital mobile experience. Some offices have incorporated features such as Internet of Things (IoT) occupancy sensors to gauge workspace usage and occupancy, and to monitor air quality and temperature. As part of the smart building technology suite, these devices provide valuable data and insights to help conserve energy and enable leadership teams to optimize space and facilities utilization.

Considerations for adopting AI-enabled technologies

As the future of AI in business becomes more defined, technology continues to evolve, new use cases will be unlocked, and new possibilities previously thought not possible will be realized. To attain the full potential value of the technology, however, a few things need to be considered, including:

Strategy: Is there a clear strategy for AI? What will the technology be used for and who sets the

Workforce: What skill sets will be required to lead and execute the AI strategy? What is the strategy for talent acquisition and what capabilities will be sourced outside of the organization versus built in-house? How will the existing workforce be impacted?

Training: How will the current workforce be trained/upskilled to adapt to the new way of work?

Data: What data is needed for these applications? Is the data available and useful—how is it collected, processed, and stored? How do we ensure security and privacy—and how do we identify and address biased data? How will the models be trained, tested, and retrained?

And finally, perhaps the most important consideration: How can we ensure responsible development and use of AI? What guardrails are in place? How are the outputs monitored and evaluated?

The good news is we are still in the very early days of AI being widely integrated into business, and it’s not too late to start exploring what AI can do for yours. As you embark on the journey, be crystal clear on your business objectives, have a plan to map out where AI can add value (and for whom), and pick the right collaborators according to your needs.

The convergence of fiber, 5G, and IoT technologies can usher us to a new future and unlock the immense potential of AI to do good for more people in our society.

Are you ready?

Learn more about how AI can help you drive business success from AT&T senior vice-president of data and artificial intelligence, Andy Markus here.

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