Simon Barker On Artificial Intelligence Giving Us More Time To Think

From The FieldArtificial intelligence is a popular topic among The Company Dime’s advisors. Previous guest posts focused on AI’s potential in travel management and society at large, ramifications of self-driving cars and the potential upside of robots handling menial tasks. Conferma co-founder and CEO Simon Barker explores another angle: AI’s potential to draw on emotions, making for not only more efficient processes, but also deeper connections between companies and consumers. In doing so he asks, “Is this technology human enough?”


Artificial intelligence represents the start of a revolution. Running a payment technology company, I am particularly fascinated by this. Can AI really make businesses more efficient and trigger deeper, more emotional and measurable reactions?

A good brand triggers an emotional connection with customers and taps into our subliminal decision-making process. But, can technology really strengthen this connection, intensifying the bond between a customer and a brand?

It’s often the stumbling block for many, this idea that a synthetic intelligence actually has the ability to discern how data is interconnected to allow for a more human-like thought process and emotional buy-in. We all know AI-enabled systems can rapidly access data but do they have that emotional layer we crave?

Emotion is a key area top brands have played on for years. When a brand triggers an emotional response, we warm to the company on a deeper level and become a devoted customer. We feel more positive and inclined to purchase, creating a build-up of loyalty. This positive emotional sentiment creates long-term memories and produces strong brand advocacy.

For certain types of companies, business strategy is all about building this longer-lasting, deeper-rooted relationship on a human level. Establishing this unbreakable connection is clearly achievable.

Brands with durable products — things you use every day, care about and look forward to — are in a privileged position to do this. The new BMW, your iPhone X, the latest Macbook Air, that beautiful bottle of 30-year old whisky, those designer shoes or amazingly innovative trainers … You’ve already subscribed to the lifestyle of the brand before even thinking about buying the latest gadget or your next pair of Jimmy Choos.

Backed by trust, such relationships need to be earned. Can we do this through less personable and emotional AI? Does the efficiency, convenience, speed and immeasurable capabilities of AI make up for this?

I’ve questioned it in the virtual payment world, asking whether AI can outweigh the human element. Or, can technology simply help generate a stronger, more emotive reaction rather than replacing it? Can we track emotional intelligence? How can we use the data?

The Bentley Inspirator app had a go at this.

Conferma co-founder and CEO Simon Barker
Conferma co-founder and CEO Simon Barker

Deemed as the “luxury commissioning experience,” the app launched with a compelling promise: To use your emotions to recommend the perfect Bentley Bentayga SUV.

Utilizing emotion metric algorithms and data from 3.4 million faces across 75 countries, it creates a model of your face and gauges your emotional reaction to a series of online films. The AI system then presents your dream Bentayga model, with color, veneer and wheels customized to your inputs.

Would you be satisfied with this or would you rather choose your color manually? For me, a technology that offers a personal, automated experience is a winner. That many respected global brands are now experimenting and refining this type of technology suggests that it has a place.

Apple’s latest iPhone X unlocks using powerful facial recognition tech, offering a more seamless natural experience. It’s not just cool; it’s more convenient. Apple benefits from the data it provides. The storing and tracking of this data could open up a whole new world for app developers and advertisers, targeting consumers’ emotional and behavioral trends.

All of this heavy investment in emotional AI by tech giants means other brands must, at the very least, take note.

It still leads me to the question: Is this technology human enough?

Human expression is complex to understand. Do we always smile when happy? Many may not express it facially and simply feel it inside.

If this is the case, can we really track emotions based on facial recognition? There is such a thing as microexpression AI, which apparently can distinguish between emotions very subtly expressed on a face that humans don’t pick up on.

No doubt, when implemented correctly and for the right reasons, this technology can enhance relationships between the customer and the company. Though more development is needed, technology can help serve more relevant content, products and experiences.

Today’s AI taps into the human element. It provides additional insights and identifies anomalies in data. As we begin to see more companies build AI into the core foundation of their products (as opposed to merely an additional feature), we can really start to see the promise.

That promise is to deliver very powerful, authentic, emotional reactions, leading to ultimate long-term company loyalty, in turn offering more enjoyable and more human experiences.

Could this technology translate into the payment world?

The adoption of AI with voice integration (such as Alexa) opens up a new realm of possibilities. Consider a pattern of approval processes created over time such that an AI-enabled system eventually takes over payment approval. Where would human intervention need to come in? Maybe this could work for the automation of low level, repetitious processes that mid-level, costly executives undertake.

Perhaps AI could also be used to make an intelligent choice of payment at the point of sale, linked to a lower-cost option, for example.

However, in all these thought processes, the real questions are, how much control could AI realistically assume and how much remains a human need?

So, is AI good for business and will it give us more time? For me, a technology that offers a personal, automated experience is good for business. Consumers will drive businesses to step out of their comfort zones and embrace new technology.

According to a recent study, AI has the power to increase productivity by 40 percent or more. If this is true, then I’m all in.


Related
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• Eric Tyree On The Future Of Artificial Intelligence And Humanity
• Anant Kale On The Automation Revolution And Which Jobs Robots Will Take
• Experts See Artificial Intelligence Boosting Travel Management Innovation
• Michael Jacques On How AI, Machine Learning And Chatbots Will Impact Managed Travel
• Talking Approvals And Expenses With Unit4’s Digital Assistant

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Simon Barker

Author: Simon Barker

Simon Barker is co-founder and CEO of Conferma. He is responsible for developing and executing the company’s strategic vision to optimize B2B payment processes through the use of innovative virtual card technology. Prior to establishing Conferma in 2004, Simon accumulated vast experience in the business travel industry during 18 years as managing director of NIS Travel Management Solutions. Simon was recognized as one of the 25 Most Influential Executives in business travel by Business Travel News for Conferma’s groundbreaking work modernizing the business travel industry’s payment processes. Connect with Simon on LinkedIn.

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