SAS COO Oliver Schabenberger’s opening keynote at SAS® Global Forum had many messages that resonated. I was particularly struck by his remark that AI, machine learning and IoT are all really a natural progression of the analytical models that SAS has always used.
They are, therefore familiar, but also new, because their applications and ramifications affect all of us. Back in the Nordics, in our Stockholm office, I sat down with our own Nordic AI expert Josefin Rosén to get her insights on what this means for us as Nordic businesses, employees and even as parents.
Josefin, what is your take on the development of AI here in the Nordics – what kind of sense are you getting when you talk to our customers and partners?
JR: I think the mindset of our customers and partners has shifted recently, from mild curiosity to realising the necessity to invest in AI and get started. We are starting to see more and more applications out there. Everything from simple automation of iterative tasks to more advanced processes, including unstructured as well as structured data. Many are starting small but thinking big, which is a good approach.
For the last 10 years now, we have been talking about data storage. Oliver was predicting, though, that most analytics will be done “at the edge.” What does this mean, and what are the ramifications?
JR: It means that we will be moving analytics to where the data is generated – inside networks and devices. Instead of storing data, we will be processing the majority of it at the source, and then discarding it. You could compare it to how humans work. We carry out computation and decision making at the edge, in our brains, and we only use other sources like input from others, or looking up things on the internet, when our own memory and “processing power” struggles.
It is important because AI algorithms are both data- and computational power-intensive. Moving data is costly and takes time, and during that time the data becomes old news. Data often needs to be acted upon at the edge, in real time, and edge analytics means we can do that, before the data loses its value. There are ramifications, though. When you are relying on real-time, AI-based decisions, especially as analytics is becoming increasingly automated, it is incredibly important that people can trust the systems, and that means understanding how they work. AI systems are revolutionising industries through machine learning, doing things like diagnosing cancer, lip reading and driving cars, and all better than we can do it. We need to learn how to build advanced systems well, and then trust them.
So when Oliver said that we have to be continuous learners and the era of “school then work” is over, what does that mean, and what do we need to do as individuals?
JR: Oliver is referencing the idea that life is no longer a matter of learning then working. Instead, we have to continuously learn, to avoid disruption and displacement. The landscape is changing fast, and we need to change with it. AI and automation will remove jobs, but they will also create new ones that do not even exist today. A lot of these jobs will not be repetitive, but will force us to use our human skills like problem solving, creativity, empathy and critical thinking. As individuals, we need to be curious, able to adapt, and willing to actively learn new ways of doing things. There are endless opportunities to learn online today.
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What will this mean for children like yours and mine, who will probably be looking for their first jobs in 10-12 years here in the Nordics? What should they focus on right now?
The keyword is curiosity. Today it is vital to “learn how to learn” rather than learning by heart. We have to inspire our children to be curious and creative, to actively seek knowledge and to practice problem solving. We also need to help them realise the importance of being able to cooperate and work well with others, including machines, but understand about culture and human systems. And of course, to wake their interest in data science 😊.
And for those of us long out of school who need to stay learning and keep curious – any recommendations for the short term?
JR: I think you should come to your nearest Nordic SAS Business Forum! If you are in Oslo and Stockholm you can for example find out how analytics is reducing fraud and creating speedier customer service at SBAB. In Copenhagen and Stockholm, we will get a glimpse of the analytical future of talent scouting in soccer from SciSports. In Helsinki, global players such as Konecranes will discuss how analytics is transforming customer service across industries. There are plenty of opportunities for learning right there!