Artificial Intelligence: “it’s time for businesses to ask themselves the right questions”

Artificial Intelligence: “it’s time for businesses to ask themselves the right questions”

Everyone has been talking about artificial intelligence for almost two years now. But what does it really mean for businesses in Valais? Economic Promotion Valais went to meet Dr André Freitas, a researcher at the Idiap Research Institute in Martigny and Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) at the University of Manchester. After teaching and researching in some of the world’s leading universities, Dr Freitas has now leading a research group in Valais. We talk to a man who is passionate about what new technologies can do for businesses, and who loves our canton.

What does artificial intelligence represent for businesses?

Businesses often think that artificial intelligence is simply about implementing production automation systems. Although that’s an important part of artificial intelligence technologies, it would be better to look at it as the opportunity to carry out tasks that are not yet possible or currently too demanding. In my view, AI-based technologies are shifting us from the manual era to a genuine new industrial era. As we know, humans have only limited capacity and cannot exceed certain thresholds. It is impossible, for example, for us to analyse the data of thousands of customers to improve their experience, but a well-designed, properly configured program can provide comprehensive, interpretable results in a few seconds.

Are some sectors likely to disappear or be fundamentally transformed?

It’s a very difficult question to answer. Undoubtedly, some sectors will be more affected by automation processes than others, but whether that will necessarily involve a reduction in the number of jobs available is still an open question. Above all, we should be looking at this development as a way of optimising certain tasks. Human resources, for example, will be able to use tools to sift job applicants based on their CV, but this first sort will never replace the impression a candidate makes at an interview. We will therefore probably see a structural change in the working environment, as we have with each technological development.

Is it time for businesses to invest in artificial intelligence?

Again, there’s no universal answer – each sector and each business is at a different stage. At the moment, the most important thing is not to decide whether to agree to large investments, but to ask oneself the question. Businesses need to start now by developing a strategy to get the most out of artificial intelligence to avoid being backed into a corner. It may be that the current developments are not yet suitable for the business or that it isn’t yet mature enough to implement them. Cost can also be a decisive factor when it comes to decision-making. In brief, it’s about reflecting and deciding on the right strategy for each situation.

The Idiap Research Institute is a world-renowned institution. What can it offer businesses in Valais?

The Idiap Research Institute has been offering a Master’s in AI – the only one of its kind in Switzerland – for some years. Future graduates will be able to offer real expertise to businesses that want to implement AI-based solutions. But this type of training is only part of the equation for supporting businesses. The Idiap Research Institute also has a strategic role to play. We also need to engage in discussions with actors in the Valais economy, both businesses and economic promotion agencies. In my view, we also need to intensify contacts between the various partners to systematise practices and develop a clear, long-term strategy. I therefore hope we can intensify our cooperation with the key players who make up the economic fabric of the canton.

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