Simon Clayton, chief ideas officer at RefTech, says AI may be the future, but not for networking.
Artificial intelligence (AI) has been the stuff of sci-fi books for decades and is now finally making some interesting leaps in the consumer world. One opinion is that of Seth Shostak, director of the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute, who said: “within 20 years, you will have one computer that’s smarter than all humans put together."
AI is used to solve complex problems where there is no set pattern (analysing handwriting for example) so the computer has to ‘learn’ how to recognise a trait and respond accordingly.
The term ‘AI’ is often misused though (just like the term Big Data – but that’s another column). Proper AI is when a computer is constantly fed data enabling it to process the outcome of an action, and then apply that outcome to future actions - thus it ‘learns’ from each action it processes and adapts each time. You have to keep feeding it data so that it can continually learn and ‘evolve’ each time.
If a programme creates variable outcomes based on variable answers - for example ‘if X equals 3 then do this’, but ‘if X equals 4 then do this’, this is not AI, it is just standard programing. And there is a massive difference. Amazon does this well: when you buy something, it will helpfully suggest other things you may like to buy to complement your purchase such as a hardware product and the batteries it needs, or linking one film to another in the same genre.
AI has now reared its head in the events industry. According to the press, the world’s first AI event networking solution has been launched, which uses AI to match a visitor to another visitor or an exhibitor at an exhibition so they can network.
For AI to work in this situation, the programme would have to be fed a constant stream of data – not just a one off hit from a registration form. Visitors would have to collaborate and keep updating the app with feedback, saying whether or not they found the suggested meeting helpful. Events are ephemeral and most change from year to year (certainly around 30 percent of exhibitors change each year) so learnings from one year couldn’t be applied to the next. The process doesn’t take in to account contextual data or personal preferences or experiences either.
I’m now going to sound like a Luddite, but even if this could happen, isn’t this a step backwards? When hosted buyer events first became popular, exhibition organisers would match hosted buyers to their exhibitors and tell them which companies they should go and see – all based on their understanding of the visitors needs from forms they had filled in.
Being told who to go and see didn’t really go down that well with visitors and some very senior people in the industry complained (rather publically) about this antiquated practice. They stated, quite rightly, that they were grown up enough to decide themselves who they really wanted to spend their time with. Some industry people even said that they would prefer to fund their own trips rather than be forced to see companies they had no interest in. The matching system just didn’t work.
IMEX is the largest events industry exhibition in the world. The hosted buyer diary system that we created for them over ten years ago, and is the backbone of their two annual events, allows buyers to review exhibiting companies and then to choose who they want to spend their time with. IMEX trusts buyers to be in charge of their appointments, to know their event objectives and then let them decide who can help them.
IMEX buyers use the website’s search engine to search for exhibitors under a category (conference venues for example) and then manually go through that list, looking at their images, reading their information and then deciding who to meet.
Using AI to take this decision out of an educated person’s hand is ludicrous and a great example of using tech for tech’s sake. Or using a sledge hammer to crack a million nuts – most of which you don’t need.
I’m pretty sure it’s not real AI and they are just using exaggerated tech speak, but I would be happy to find out more and be proved wrong. If the developers are reading this, then please get in touch because I’d love to see a demo of your AI. Either way, it is going on my ‘ones to watch’ list. In a year’s time I will review it to see if it has actually made any impact on the industry and the way we network at events.
I’m not feeling very positive.