It’s tempting to anthropomorphize artificial intelligence (AI), particularly when devices such as Alexa and Siri increasingly employ human communication. I’ve been known to throw in a sharp retort every now and then when it misses the point. But AI does not think like humans, and should not be considered a brain, however it can serve as a nervous system for your organization.
The Human Brain
The 5 senses deliver over 11 billion bits per second through the central nervous system to the brain. Yet the conscious mind seems to be able to process only 50 bits per second. But what is happening to the 11 million bits of data? It appears that a tremendous amount of compression is taking place.
The time required to do this processing and compression of sensory input requires approximately a half-second delay between the instant that the senses receive a stimulus and the instant that the mind is conscious of a sensation. To compensate for this delay, the body has a reflex system that can respond in less than one-tenth of a second. The brain has 100 billion cells, each with connections to thousands of other brain cells. As a result, the brain is equipped with many processors, capable of executing as many as 100 billion operations per second.
It is often assumed that consciousness is the dominant feature of the brain. The brief observations above suggest a rather different picture. It now appears that most of the processing is accomplished outside conscious notice and that most of the body’s activities take place outside direct conscious control.
This suggests that practice and habit are important because they train circuits in the brain to carry out some actions “automatically,” without conscious interference. This is referred to as muscle memory. Even such a “simple” activity as walking is best done without interference from consciousness, which does not have enough information processing capability to keep up with the demands of this task. AI is not a brain, it cannot reason or think, but it can be used to sense, deliver and analyze signals. But consider a larger role for AI as a nervous system for your organization.
The Human Nervous System
The spinal cord is the ultimate information super highway. A marvelous network of complex, orchestrated signal receptors, information transportation, and activity responses supports our human brain function.
- The brain is the central processing center
- The spinal cord is the main communication corridor
- The motor nerves control many of the body functions
- Involuntary motor are unintentional movements (blinking, heartbeat, breathing)
- Involuntary motor movements can sometimes be controlled (holding breath, staring)
- Housekeeping are the body’s internal controls, for example the relationship between blood pressure and heart rate.
- Flight or fight are visceral responses to external stimuli
- Voluntary motor are intentional movements (shaking hands)
- Sensory nerves are those controlled by your senses, sending signals to the brain
- The cycle continues
The AI Business Nervous System
The business nervous system operates similarly, supporting the operations of the business through communication of signals, and automatic, programmed responses.
- The senior leaders set the strategy, targets, etc.
- The back office support structure such includes merchandising, marketing, supply chain, finance, and HR
- Operational management runs the day to day operations
- Automatic actions are opening and closing, core systems, etc.
- Conserving may involve automatic temperature changes for example.
- Mobilizing may be beefing up associate schedules.
- Responding to initiatives includes initiatives.
- Real time activity monitoring may utilize IoT, computer vision, traffic counters, social listening etc.
- The cycle continues
Retailers Should Take Action
- List AI-enabled projects planned or in progress:
- Identify strategic importance.
- Plot projects on the Strategic AI Framework:
- Use to engage with senior business leaders to discuss AI.
- Aligned with adaptations required by high-level business strategy?
- Develop long-range plans for strategic AI investments:
- Track the maturity of relevant AI technologies.
- Plan to acquire the skills and resources needed in the future.
Gartner’s retail clients can learn more about AI in Retail here:
Survey Analysis: Retail Use of Artificial Intelligence Expected
Robert Hetu (G00404419)
Strategic Framework of AI Use Cases in Retail
Robert Hetu and Jorge Lopez (G00385399)
How CIOs Can Analyze the Strategic Possibilities of AI
Jorge Lopez (G00347025)
What Retail CIOs Need to Know About AI for Merchandising
Robert Hetu (G00365774)