Monetising Digital Technologies: How Enterprises Plan to Benefit from AI, IoT and Blockchain
While blockchain technology and the cryptocurrencies associated with it have hit the market in a big way, the distributed ledger is still lagging way behind other key developments of our time. When it comes to enterprise, companies and corporations have set their sights on two other potentially revolutionary technologies: Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT).
Simply put, blockchain is still too new for its potential to have been fully explored. The future of the tech is clearly bright, especially when it comes to the disruption of different sectors, but that implementation and adoption has a long way to go. There are also regulatory aspects to consider, especially when entering the world of finance.
As a result, there has been a lot more enterprise driven towards IoT and AI (the latter in particular) as their use-cases have been more solidly identified. What’s more, companies and corporations have been quick to highlight ways in which they can monetise AI and IoT, taking it from ‘interesting technology’ to ‘serious business consideration.’
However, this weight of expectation and hype has not all been for AI and IoT. For one thing, in the case of AI, in particular, it has quickly become dominated by the major digital giants.
“[Blockchain] has been less dominated by centralised forces and thus still has much space to grow and evolve… [but its] enforced decentralised nature makes it all the more difficult to control and monetise, especially at a corporate level”
The lack of enterprise involvement in the development of blockchain technology has, ultimately, meant that it has been less dominated by centralised forces and has had ample space to grow and evolve. That said, blockchain’s enforced decentralised nature makes it all the more difficult to control and monetise, especially at a corporate level, and this leaves the technology in a precarious position.
Blockchain Lagging Behind in Enterprise
According to a recent survey by SADA Systems of IT professionals at large companies, AI and IoT are the primary areas of focus for enterprise investments in new tech in 2018. In total, 500 professionals were surveyed and the numbers make disappointing reading for those hoping for enterprise involvement in blockchain.
“Of [the 500 enterprise-level IT professionals] surveyed, 38% claimed that AI was the primary focus of emerging tech projects, with IoT and blockchain coming in at 31% and 10% respectively”
Of those surveyed, 38% claimed that AI was the primary focus of emerging tech projects, with IoT and blockchain coming in at 31% and 10% respectively. Despite the greater focus on AI, it’s important to understand how important the IoT is for machine learning. It is the IoT-connected devices that can create the amount of data needed to train machine learning models and, as such, many of these tech companies already have a stable IoT and edge-computing foundation that forms the basis for AI advancement.
However, when it comes to blockchain enterprise, there is a big lag behind the other two technologies, despite the massive media attention it is currently receiving. Essentially, this is a case of bark over bite. Blockchain has been spoken about in high regard, but in terms of proven successful use-cases, they are few and far between.
More Benefit to Companies in IoT and AI
AI and IoT have crossed important barriers in their development. No longer is the question ‘What can we do with machine learning?’ but rather, ‘What can we do with machine learning that adds value?’
“The technology of AI and IoT has crossed important barriers in their development. No longer is the question ‘What can we do with machine learning?’ but rather, ‘What can we do with machine learning that adds value?’”
Blockchain is now sufficiently developed for companies and organisations to consider adopting it as part of their working process. The issue now, though, is how to take the relatively stable technology and implement it in a way which can add value to the business.
Adoption of IoT is reaching the point at which the technology is decidedly usable and interoperable. Big names in cloud are building support and interoperability for IoT devices, while data ingestion has become easier for the average enterprise using the public cloud.
Problems with the Attractiveness of IoT and AI
One issue that has started to become apparent with AI and IoT in terms of enterprise and possibility is that they are starting to be pigeonholed. Like most emerging technologies, blockchain included, they were designed to benefit as many people as possible and provide opportunities for as many businesses as possible. However, tech giants such as Facebook and Google have started taking control of them.
Jaron Lanier, who is widely credited as one of the founders of virtual reality, delivered a sobering prognosis on the spiralling corruption of such social networks: “I can’t call them social networks any more. I call them behaviour-modification empires,” said Lanier at a TED conference earlier this year. “How do you celebrate entrepreneurship when everything is free?”
Tech companies are now looking to advertising to fund their operations, and that’s where the corruption began. AI, for instance, has become a key tool for the likes of Facebook to use to extract more advertising dollars. As a result, innovation in the field is being stymied as it snaps up developers and thought leaders to point them in a direction that exists only to generate revenue.
“Innovation in the field is being stymied as [advertising] snaps up developers and thought leaders to point them in a direction that exists only to generate revenue”
“What we see in the tech world right now is a relatively small number of large companies grabbing a very significant chunk of new AI PhDs and experienced developers,” explains Ben Goertzel, founder and CEO of Singularity NET, a blockchain-based AI marketplace.
“Furthermore, the default fate for an AI startup these days is to get bought by a big tech company. In effect, tech startups are serving as stealth recruiting tools for big companies and used to gobble up young developers and researchers who may not particularly want big-company careers.
“The channelling of AI expertise into big corporations has a significant impact regarding what kinds of problems it gets primarily applied to. Advertising, for example, gets an awful lot of attention. Cambridge Analytica’s relatively crude methods of social-media engineering, applied to political campaigning, got a lot of press in the last US presidential election cycle. But Google, Facebook and Baidu, among others, have vastly more sophisticated manipulation machinery, which is used not to elect candidates but rather to direct people to buy products and services.”
Thus, while the enterprise is there and available for AI, it is not always wanted or even needed. The advancement of such technologies needs an extension of innovation, rather than a suffocation of it. Goertzel explains: “The valuable practical applications are not in the dozens, they’re in the tens of thousands at least – and growing. Yet, its meaningful usage is being focused by major corporations on just one use: money-making.”
The Double-Edged Sword of Blockchain
Blockchain may be behind AI and IoT when it comes to enterprise and, thus, adoption by companies and corporations. However, experience might tell us that this is, actually, not a bad thing at all.
By its very nature, blockchain technology is difficult to control, owing to decentralisation and the fact it has an even bigger stable of disruptive potential uses. However, this is also causing the technology to lag behind others in terms of its growth and development.
“[Blockchain] is starting to see a drive from other institutions, such as governments and banks, and that may well be the key to getting it to a critical mass in terms of adoption”
While it will be more difficult to usurp the technology as in the case of AI, this should not be the end of an enterprise push for blockchain. It is starting to see a drive from other institutions, such as governments and banks, and that may well be the key to getting it to a critical mass in terms of adoption.
Once it has made it through the bureaucratic ‘testing’ stage required by traditional institutions such as these, and the regulations have had time to settle, there is likely to be a wider drive to pick up the technology and run with it.
Most people will know that Google has pivoted away from being a search company, becoming instead a primarily and wildly successful advertising giant. Not as many will realise that Facebook has essentially done the same thing. In fact, Statista found that over 90% of Facebook’s revenue comes from mobile advertising alone. When it started selling mobile ad space in 2012, this growth would have seemed impossible.
Why is Facebook so successful? Well, it is unparalleled in terms of scale. No alternative can offer the user base and the data to deliver such successful targeted ads. While marketers have left platforms like YouTube over controversies, they say that quitting Facebook ads would directly hurt their businesses. It will be interesting to see, then, how Facebook’s foray into technologies like virtual reality will affect its ad revenue. Facebook is still a social force, just not perhaps in the way it was originally conceived to be.
Illustrations by Kseniya Forbender
To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Margarita Khartanovich at [email protected]
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