Are 'non-technology' companies immune to Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning, and Deep Learning are common vernacular used in today’s technology sector. According to McKinsey's research, major technology companies have individually invested between “$20 billion to $30 billion dollars on AI in 2016, with 90% of this being spent on R&D.” AI is a major force in the tech sector, but what about those who are not in tech? Should ‘non-technology’ brands be investing in AI?

Some brands, like Saks Fifth Avenue have written off AI. They claim that, “we don’t need AI in our stores. We have ‘I’ [I meaning intelligence].” While this could be a point of differentiation for the brand, with fashion brands like Nordstrom, Macy’s, and Burberry all exploring AI, Saks Fifth Avenue risks forgetting about a major portion of their brand positioning: the target audience. If customers of the future consider AI and personalization a “cost of entry” (e.g. customers today expect 2-day shipping, tomorrow they may expect AI), then Saks Fifth Avenue could be a modern-day Blockbuster Video.

Surprisingly, even pizza isn’t immune to AI. Domino's Pizza is exploring AI in one store in Australia for a trial period. The company is striving to ensure that pepperonis are evenly placed throughout the pizza. AI takes a picture of the prepared pepperoni pizza and identifies if the pepperoni placement is worthy of Domino's brand and customer. Domino's Pizza is using AI to ensure the integrity of its product is maintained for the customer. Further, the company, which has been leaning into technology for sometime, is now truly re-positioning from a pizza company to “an e-commerce company that sells pizza.”

Even nonprofits are leaning into AI, especially through Microsoft’s $50 Million investment in AI for Earth. For example, Microsoft has provided an AI grant to Long Live the Kings, a Seattle nonprofit that works to ensure the health of salmon populations in the Puget Sound. The nonprofit is using AI to run models on myriad questions like “what can happen if one type of species declines and another increases?” This research can help inform ecosystem management and policy decisions. It is becoming overwhelmingly clear that few sectors are immune to the AI movement.

From nonprofits to pizza, ‘non-technology’ companies are ramping up on AI. With this growing trend, brands need to start thinking about three things:

1. Technical Expertise: How do we learn how to do this? Cray Supercomputers is a great technical resource on AI.
2. Customer Journey: How do we design it from the start to be customer-centric?
3. Brand Positioning: How do we begin to tell our AI story?

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