Big data and AI are two terms that are so closely interlinked that they might almost seem like the same thing. But that isn’t quite the case. They’re actually more like two separate organisms in a symbiotic relationship. Without artificial intelligence and machine learning to make sense of it, big data is too big to be usable. At the same time, artificial intelligence learns more quickly and does its job better when it has massive volumes of data to work with. It’s a match made in digital heaven.
What do we mean when we talk about big data?
So what exactly is “big data?” There are many different definitions of out there, but the term usually refers to a collection of data that is:
- growing very rapidly
- complex and wide-ranging
- enormously large (big doesn’t even cut it anymore)
As an example, imagine the browsing and purchasing history of all shoppers on a popular online retail website. The volume of the data is increasing at every second, it involves thousands or millions of different products and just as many customers, and the number of interactions and transactions it encompasses are astronomical. A similar example from another industry would be the data generated by the omnipresent monitoring systems in a smart factory environment or Industry 4.0 system.
These types of data sets are mind-bogglingly large. The sheer volume of “big data” sets, and the speed at which they are growing, mean that traditional data processing and analytics techniques are too slow to be of any practical use. By the time they could glean any kind of meaningful information, the data would be obsolete.
AI brings order (and meaning) to the chaos of big data
That is where AI comes into the equation. The algorithms quickly learn to recognize patterns within the endless streams of data, and can even use historical data to make predictions about the future. That means that companies can now make sense of these overwhelming quantities of data and use it to gain a competitive advantage. This is such a significant development that the MIT Sloan Management Review says: “The convergence of big data with AI has emerged as the single most important development that is shaping the future of how firms drive business value from their data and analytics capabilities.”
And big data is driving the development of AI forward. Machine learning algorithms feed on large volumes of data – the more data they get, the better they work. It is precisely because of the recent explosion in data volumes (and computing power) that AI has developed so rapidly in recent years.
How AI and big data can work in synergy
Artificial intelligence goes beyond simple pattern recognition — it also has the ability to make predictions and develop strategies. Given sufficient historical data, an AI system could identify patterns in the data, compare that with new data, and use the results predict trends in the immediate future. For example, if a machine had failed in the past after a long, slow increase in its internal temperature, the AI system could identify the trend as a possible cause of the failure. It could also pick up on the fact that the machine’s temperature is once again beginning to rise and use that information to predict that it needs maintenance. There is no need for a human operator to set temperature parameters for the monitoring system—artificial intelligence can use pattern recognition to identify them on its own.
This capability can also be used to test the expected results of a new plan or strategy. If, for example, the temperature of multiple machines is hotter than usual, the AI system could analyze the expected outcome of decreasing the ambient temperature of the factory by a few degrees. It wouldn’t just guess whether that might be helpful — it could actually check the effects of previous drops in temperature (assuming it has sufficient historical data available) and determine whether this would improve the current situation.
AI planning takes the guesswork out of decision-making
That type of pattern recognition and prediction is impressive enough, but with a planning module, an AI system could take things yet a step further. Rather than analyzing a plan that a human employee has suggested, it can devise plans on its own based on the data it has available, then analyze those ideas to see which would be most effective and easiest to implement. And because AI systems have access to more data than any human could comprehend, they can often identify solutions that would otherwise have been unrecognizable. It provides countless new opportunities for improvement and takes the guess-work out of executive decision making.
As an example, an online retailer could give the algorithm the task of improving product availability during key sales periods such as Christmas. The algorithm could analyze purchasing data from past years to predict which products will sell in higher volumes during the Christmas season, then recommend which volumes to purchase when. It could monitor sales volumes and user’s browsing patterns leading up to the Christmas season and recommend adjustments to that plan as required. This would help the retailer avoid over-purchasing as well as under-purchasing, improving profits in the long-run.
Big data, natural language, and sentiment analysis: how AI can truly shine
This could even be taken a step further by incorporating an analysis of social media posts. An intelligent virtual entity (IVE) could be programmed to extract and analyze both past and current social media posts that reference a given product. The number of positive posts could be cross-referenced with ordering statistics from past years to identify products at “risk” of becoming a trending item. If a product is on the verge of trending, which would cause it to sell in unusually high volumes, the IVE could inform the purchasing department in advance and provide suggested order volumes.
Given the right technology and sufficient computing power, big data gives companies the ability to look into their businesses and operations more closely than ever before. And the insights they can gain with the help of artificial intelligence are invaluable. Artificial intelligence is about more than just automation — it can also improve decision making, drive innovation, and find solutions to problems that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. That makes it a true game-changer for the companies who make the decision to use it to their advantage.
At Blackzendo, we believe that AI has the potential to revolutionize business as we know it. The possibilities it offers, from automation to decision-making and more, are nearly endless, and it is thrilling to imagine the new technologies that will develop as we continue to push the envelope of possibility.