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SiliconANGLE | Machines now call the tune. Are we ready to dance?

As guests mingled among the appetizers and food at Accenture’s Technology Vision event last month in San Francisco, California, jazz music played in the background. The band improvised a number of classic standards, which was noteworthy because one of the players was Shimon, a robot, and it was playing a mean marimba.

The presence of a jazz-playing robot was fitting because the theme of the evening was the intersection of human and machine, highlighting the release of Accenture PLC’s “Technology Vision 2018” report. It documented the need for enterprises to fully understand emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality, augmented reality and cloud computing. The robot’s musical accompaniment offered yet another example of civilization’s inexorable march to a world where machines are part of daily life, doing just about everything humans can do in real time.

“We’re talking about a fundamentally different role that companies need to play as they’re thinking about the next evolution of the products and services they’re offering to their customers,” said Paul Daugherty (pictured), chief technology and innovation officer at Accenture. “We believe that the future is really about human plus machine working together.”

Daugherty spoke with Jeff Frick (@JeffFrick), host of theCUBE, SiliconANGLE Media’s mobile livestreaming studio, at the Accenture Technology Vision event to discuss the firm’s work in extended reality, use cases for virtual technology, Daugherty’s recent participation in the World Economic Forum, and the importance of training a workforce for the future.

This week theCUBE features Paul Daugherty as our Guest of the Week.

Embracing extended reality

The importance of how people interact with technology, and what that will ultimately mean for business, has led Accenture to form its own Extended Reality group. This new division focuses on assisting companies to create and deliver customer experiences in virtual reality, augmented reality and other immersive technologies.

Examples of how this translates in the enterprise are plentiful. One of Accenture’s projects involved creating the BMW i Visualiser, which employed augmented reality to transform the car-buying experience. Through a smartphone-driven app, BMW customers interact with a virtual version of what they might want to purchase.

The integration of 3D product data and Google’s Tango technology lead buyers through an AR experience that allows users to create and move around in a life-sized virtual car. BMW was looking for an approach that would entice millennial buyers who loathe the traditional salesperson-guided car shopping experience.

“The average kid spends about eight-and-a-half hours in front of a screen,” Daugherty said. “It’s a pivot point in terms of thinking about how companies provide technology.”

That race to capture screen time becomes especially important when the amount of actual usage gets factored into the equation. The research firm dscout Inc. published a report last year that documented the results from a user group study that monitored every swipe, type and touch on a smartphone. The results showed an average of 2,600 times per day that people touch their phones, with the heaviest users exceeding 5,000 times.

Numbers like these highlight the need to adopt emerging technologies for a variety of enterprise needs, including training. When Wal-mart Stores Inc. went looking for a way to better prepare its employees for the riotous shopping experience the day after Thanksgiving (also known as Black Friday), the company settled on a VR solution. Using Oculus Rift-viewing headsets at its 200 training centers, Wal-Mart employees engaged in simulations that provided an immersive, highly crowded experience.

“They were better prepared to handle the high volume, the incidents that could happen, the unexpected circumstances,” Daugherty said. “That’s this next generation of experience that we’re moving toward.”

Davos dialogue on tech solutions

Buying a car or preparing for massive crowds of bargain-hunting shoppers is one thing. Solving really big problems, such as revolutionizing global food production, is quite another. Daugherty, who has recently written a book titled “Human + Machine: Reimagining Work in the Age of AI,” attended the World Economic Forum gathering in Davis, Switzerland, in January and spoke with attendees about using the power of technology to address major global issues.

The WEF issued a report at the conference that documented a major gap in technology focused on food innovation compared with other sectors. One data point cited showed that the healthcare industry had attracted $145 billion in start-up investment since 2010, while food production received only $14 billion.

To address these issues, Accenture has initiated a Digital Agriculture Service Group, with a focus on connected crops and precision food-growing solutions. “We talked a lot at Davos about how to use technology to solve some of the big problems we have in the world today,” Daugherty said. “Governments, tech companies and non-governmental organizations working together to solve a real problem using innovative technology — that’s what we call innovation with purpose.”

To innovate with purpose will require that people have the requisite skills to meet demands of the digital age. New research by Accenture released in February revealed that human-machine collaboration could be a boon for the enterprise, but there was a growing skills gap in AI and concern that closing it was not a major priority.

The report found that three-quarters of senior executives surveyed plan to automate tasks and processes based on a strong belief that investment in AI could increase revenues by more than 40 percent. Yet, the research also showed that only a quarter of the executives believed the workforce was skilled in AI and a paltry six percent plan to increase training.

“That’s a problem,” Daugherty explained. “If you believe the workforce isn’t prepared, there’s an obligation to begin investing to prepare the workforce.”

Whether it’s robots playing music or virtual technology that puts consumers inside the cars they want to buy, the future is smart machines getting smarter. In his recently-published book, Daugherty envisions a world where AI will have a profound and positive impact on a company’s ability to innovate and drive profitability.

“Rather than [having a] fear of machines taking over the world and machines putting everybody out of work, we don’t believe that’s the future,” Daugherty said. “There’s tremendous opportunity. There’s industries we don’t yet know of being started right now that are creating new jobs.”

Watch the complete video interview below, and be sure to check out more of SiliconANGLE’s and theCUBE’s coverage of the Accenture Technology Vision event.


Source: Silicon Angle