News and Insights


17 May

What is Artificial Intelligence?


The concept of artificial intelligence (AI) has been a fictitious aim for a long time. Today, AI has gone beyond the realms of science fiction to become a hot topic and a reality. Leading retailers are aware of the advantages artificial intelligence can bring and are already embracing this new technology and reaping the rewards.

In this question and answer article, we ask:

  • What is the definition of artificial intelligence?
  • What is machine learning?
  • How do AI and machine learning work?
  • What are the benefits of artificial intelligence?

What is Artificial Intelligence?

Humanity is always looking for better ways to work more efficiently and accurately. The continual push for technology that can propel mankind further faster has taken us through four industrial revolutions. We’ve moved:

  1. From agricultural to industrial and urban societies
  2. On to the widespread use of electric power and mass production
  3. Then from industry to digital technology
  4. And now we’re embedding digital technology within society and organisations with breakthroughs including;
    1. Robotics
    2. Artificial intelligence
    3. Machine learning
    4. The Internet of Things

REPL is at the forefront of this new technological wave by helping retailers translate the latest industrial revolution into actionable tools that bring business benefits.

Before we get on to the advantages of AI, let’s be clear about what it means.

What is the Definition of Artificial Intelligence?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines artificial intelligence (or computer intelligence), as:

“the study of how to produce machines that have some of the qualities that the human mind has, such as the ability to understand language, recognise pictures, solve problems and learn”

Essentially, this advance takes computers from receiving and responding to commands to thinking for themselves. Achieved through a combination of computer hardware and software, artificial intelligence specialists aim to build systems that can make their own decisions.

In many ways, AI is modelled on the human brain enabling systems to absorb and process enormous amounts of complex data to solve problems.

In its infancy, artificial intelligence systems used millions of lines of code combined with complex rules and decision trees to reach conclusions. However, like a child learning to talk, early versions of AI didn’t always produce the desired outcomes. Remember early translations from Google Translate?  

To help AI systems learn, more technology was required: machine learning.

What is Machine Learning?

If artificial intelligence is the end-result, machine learning (or machine intelligence) is the system that helps AI learn.

Machine intelligence is established by running software programmed with an algorithm. In the same way that a person learns something new, the computer assesses the information and begins to learn by establishing patterns. As it absorbs more data and more experiences, the software adjusts and improves until it can provide answers like a real human.

Although humans provide the machine learning system with tonnes of data to sift, assess and compute, human interaction is minimal.

REPL’s head of data science, Dr. Rafik Salama says that image recognition is a key area where machine learning and artificial intelligence have come on significantly. By processing huge numbers of images, AI systems can identify a dog from a human from a cat and so on.

One effective real-world example is Facebook’s computer intelligence system which learns who’s who in your friend list as you tag names to faces in photos. Over time, the software automatically does this for you with a high degree of accuracy.

How do AI and ML Work Together?

Facebook is just one way that machine learning and artificial intelligence combine to provide powerful digital tools. Car manufacturers are also taking this technology and applying it to car safety. By monitoring drivers’ faces, the car can recognise when they are losing focus or becoming tired. Which allows the vehicle to prompt the driver to concentrate or pull over for a rest.

In the retail sector, REPL works with a range of high street names to bring this cutting edge technology to bear.

Leading artificial intelligence and machine learning systems go far beyond facial or image recognition. They can also plan tasks, assess huge swathes of information and spot patterns hidden deep within the data. Which makes them highly useful for a range of retail tasks:

  • Pricing optimisation

Online retailers have enormous amounts of pricing data and advanced software to help them rapidly respond to changes in consumer demand and competitors’ pricing. Up to now, traditional retailers have been behind the curve. But more are beginning to take up the tools offered by AI-powered apps that adjust prices automatically based on data like competition analysis, weather, local events and promotions.

  • Inventory rationalisation

Understanding your stock levels, gaps and demand helps minimise buildup and makes your operation more efficient. Artificial intelligence applications can assess much bigger datasets than humans, enabling them to analyse historical data and spot the patterns and trends people can’t. Like historical issues with a particular product piling up. Or local demographics. Using predictive analytics, AI software can help you identify underperforming products and avoid costly pile-up problems.

  • Workforce management

Anticipating shortages in the workforce is a tricky task, but computer intelligence and machine learning can take this task off managers’ hands. By interpreting historical data and wider events, like holidays or sickness data, workforce management systems can anticipate staff demand and shortages and find suitable replacements. Insights from this deep data learning can also be used to optimise staff shifts and recruitment criteria. All with minimal management intervention.

What Are the Benefits of Artificial Intelligence?

The integration of artificial intelligence and machine learning in retail operations is advancing at pace. One of the main drivers is consumer expectations around speed of change as highlighted by PSFK:

  • 54% of consumers expect retail brands to implement change within six months
  • 29% expect a brand to be able to change within one month

To meet these demands, retailers need to find ways to free up time by alleviating workers from manual tasks. By getting machines to do the kinds of work outlined above, artificial intelligence frees staff up to focus on value-adding work that can drive change and deliver for the consumer.

It’s clear that artificial intelligence and machine learning are leading lights of the fourth industrial revolution. From making improvements in workforce and stock management to getting the most from your goods with an optimised pricing strategy, they’re bringing significant benefits to retailers.

Find out how AI could help you future-proof your business by calling REPL on +44 (0) 808 200 7375.

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