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An expert view: how to integrate artificial intelligence into your company?

Marlon Dumas, a University of Tartu professor and a computer scientist, is a keynote speaker at sTARTUp Day 2024.  Photo: Maanus Kullamaa for Excite magazine / Execution Ekspress Meedia Special Solutions
Marlon Dumas, a University of Tartu professor and a computer scientist, is a keynote speaker at sTARTUp Day 2024. Photo: Maanus Kullamaa for Excite magazine / Execution Ekspress Meedia Special Solutions

Becoming an AI-native company starts with asking simple questions, Marlon Dumas, one of the best-known computer scientists, explains.

Marlon Dumas, Tartu University Professor, is among the 1% of most cited researchers in the field of computer sciences in the world. He believes businesses that don’t use artificial intelligence, or AI, will fall behind.

Dumas compares the modern days to the late 90s when people started sharing information online. “The internet changed how we do business, just like AI,” Dumas explained. “Until now, the technology was based on keyword searches. It meant you still had to work through all the answers yourself. Now, the machine can find the list of answers and solve about 80% of your problems, whether you are working in a law firm, customer service, or a telecommunications company. That’s a big shift! And that’s only one of the capabilities out of dozens that have emerged.”

Before, I could only google about Marlon Dumas. Now I can ask ChatGPT to write the whole article for me.

Yes, you could see all sorts of things online – good and bad. That was the advantage. In the case of your story, it would make it more balanced. But if you are not careful or intellectually disciplined enough, new AI technology can quickly dictate the narrative for you.

The same goes for businesses. If we exclude the human… do you see the threat here?

There is a threat that it creates a bias, even if involuntarily. Before, you would get many answers. Now, you get one without having to go through all the information.

It’s like the simplification of life, the simplification of data.

Yes – but it is only giving you one part of the story.

When it comes to your field – businesses – what advantages do you see?

AI technology has the advantage of increasing efficiency. You can use it to improve services, reduce costs, or expand businesses. We can do many things with that technology. It makes the business entirely dependent on a machine. Think about legal firms, for example. It can greatly improve how they analyze their historical cases and develop argumentations. In customer service, AI can write answers to frequent customer questions and radically increase the productivity of your customer service staff.

However, a human will have to check and update that data.

Indeed. AI won’t necessarily destroy jobs and businesses, but it will radically change them. The question is how fast we can adapt.

Is there still time for an entrepreneur to start and jump on board?

The technology is improving and evolving rapidly. Better versions are constantly coming up. It is the time for businesses to understand, test, and experiment with this technology. Otherwise, they will fall back. We are in 1995-moment again when the internet started to explode. Some companies grew with the technology natively, adapted it, and went online from their first days. Think of the effect Amazon had on the retail industry in the US while its competitors continued their life as usual. Estonia got big with e-governance around that time. It was luck. Of course, luck has to be earned and deserved, but when Estonia built its e-government system, fundamentally, the reason why it was so successful was because it was made on the grounds of the paradigm-shifting technology that is the Web. Estonia could build its systems natively on the Web, while others had to deal with the weight of old approaches. Many Estonian companies grew out of that as well. In the early 2000s, 95% of banking transactions in Estonia were online. It was incredible by international standards! Estonia went from having nothing in 1995 to being the poster child of the e-nation by 2005 – impressive! Meanwhile, other countries were still stamping cheques to make payments. We are in the same place again, and businesses must decide which side of the fence they are.

Is this why you moved to Estonia in 2007 – to experience this wave of change?

It is attractive for an IT person to be in a country with an IT boom. At the time, the politicians in other countries were saying that IT is important, but it stopped at the talk. Not in Estonia!

What would be your first recommendation to an entrepreneur? Where should they start?

You have to start by pulling together the data about the processes and have a hard look at your data.

How do you do that?

Ask your IT department to get data and analyze your process performance in different parts. Identify manually where the bottlenecks are. Then you know how to improve. The next step is to ask a machine to answer your questions automatically or fix your problems.

So, it starts with the old-fashioned asking questions. You can’t replace that!

It all starts with looking at what you want to improve: is it about customer service, or is it about cutting costs?

What about someone only starting a business? They may not have an IT department. How could they include modern thinking in their company’s structure?

Centralize every piece of data you collect and access it through the AI interface from the start: your website activity, your e-commerce orders, your backend management systems, everything.The company will grow with this mentality. Whenever you interact with customers or supervisors, it all goes to a central place, and you can use that data with AI tools. Those are the companies that are going to be AI-native.

And it sounds like it’s even easier for the starting companies.

Yes. Traditionally, companies don’t think about the data but just collect it. AI-native companies can prioritize data! It’s central to it.

What’s your message to the people who are only choosing their careers?

Do something that inspires you, wakes you up in the morning, and makes you want to be “above the average”. If you have a job that involves repeating others, you can be sure that an AI will replace you. Prepare yourself to do something differently. To be creative and passionate about what you do!

In short, artificial intelligence will make work even more fun, excluding the repetitive tasks most people don’t usually enjoy anyway. The same goes for creative areas like writing. To test Professor Marlon’s ideas, I didn’t ask a machine to write this story, but I did ask it to give me the title. The AI-powered search engine Perplexity came up with this: ” The AI Revolution: Insights from Computer Scientist Marlon Dumas”. Not bad for a machine!

Still, I kept my original one. I think I am still a better writer than a robot. But it’s clear they are catching up, and fast!

Written by: Marian MänniThis article was funded by the European Regional Development Fund through Estonian Research Council.

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