Stuff Digital Edition

AI ‘just years’ away from being part of everything we do

Aimee Shaw Aimee Shaw travelled to Las Vegas courtesy of Amazon Web Services.

Amazon is at the forefront of artificial intelligence, and the tech powerhouse says it is confident that the world is just a few years away from having generative AI a part of everything we do.

Everything from meal planning, looking into the contents of your fridge and ordering the grocery shop without the need to think about it, through to a personal assistant scanning your inbox and planning how we spend the hours in a week.

Development for mainstream chatbots to make work and life easier is already underway. Just this week, Amazon’s cloud computing subsidiary Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced at its annual tech conference in Las Vegas that it had developed Amazon Q, an AI chatbot for businesses.

This is a tool to free up workers from daily tasks such as summarising documents, filing out internal support tickets and answering questions about company policies.

It has been touted as Amazon’s answer to ChatGPT, which catapulted generative AI into the mainstream over the past year and sparked an interest from businesses in tools that create marketing pitches and other bodies of text in next to no time.

AWS hosted 50,000 business leaders, developers and tech fanatics to attend demonstrations and expos, listen to talks from executives about new product launches and learn about how AI and macine-learning can transform industries and solve real-world problems.

Kiwi companies at the show included Air New Zealand, Cactus Outdoor, Arcanum and software firm DataMasque, which won AWS’ worldwide Rising Star Award for the fast growth.

AWS chief executive Adam Selipsky announced more than 15 new tech products, a theme that continued on across the week as other top leaders announced new developments and partnerships.

Other major announcements included Amazon Titan, producing AI-generated photos from text prompts, and co-development deals such as the expansion of Auckland energy company Vector and AWS’ energy data platform Diverge, developed to provide detailed data on energy usage and quality to better understand supply and demand across the grid and what infrastructure needs to change as we move towards mass electrification. They plan to launch it into new markets beyond New Zealand and Australia.

The company has also got behind and partnered with Wellington AI developer Arcanum to help double the size of its business by 2025 and fast-track the adoption of generative AI among its small and medium enterprise customers.

As a first timer to AWS re:Invent, my first thoughts were of surprise at the scale of the conference that books out a string of hotels and puts on a full-blown rock cover band concert – with its take on Foo Fighters’ classic My Hero coming ahead of Selipsky’s speech. Only in Las Vegas.

There were three key takeaways from the event.

Generative AI to become mainstream

AWS chief executive Adam Selipsky says generative AI “has the potential over time to transform virtually every customer experience that we know”. Currently, it is doing work that can generate data insights, save hours of manual work, make writing code faster and “take projects that were slogs and make them smatter”.

This is technology that can solve problems and reinvent new ways to operate to boost productivity across all sectors and organisations.

Tiffany Bloomquist, AWS New Zealand country manager, says Amazon has been competing in the artificial intelligence and machine-learning space for 10 years and thousands of its customers are using machine-learning and AI already.

She says the rate of AI adoption is increasing, and it is time for companies to think critically about how they are “reinventing” the way their businesses are run.

But it is only recently that consumers have understood and practically been able to see what the productivity gains would be by leveraging it.”

While the speed of development of AI has been rapid, Bloomquist says we have only taken “the first few steps in a marathon.”

Chatbots will change business

Technology can enable us to work smarter, not harder, and boost productivity; another key theme.

Matt Wood, AWS vice-president of technology, says the newly announced business chatbot, Amazon Q, and what it will mean for boosting productivity and freeing up staff to do tasks that add value to the service or business.

Technological advancements tend to follow an S curve, Wood says, and what we have today in terms of generative AI use is at the bottom left-hand of the S curve – it is yet to realise its most impactful capabilities.

“In the next couple of years, we’ll see 10-times improvements in the capabilities of the underlying large language models, coupled with all the additional pieces that customers are going to need to build generative AI systems.

“That could be chatbots or document management systems or automation systems, but the models today are only one component,” he says.

“There is a school of thought that says if you can use generative AI to improve generative AI, then that’s when you hit that inflexion point, and the capabilities skyrocket in terms of the complexity of problems we can solve and the distance we can plan ahead.”

Data is king

Wood says data is king, a currency of sorts and there is now more that people can do with their data than ever before, making artificial intelligence and the opportunities for convenience and personalisation even greater.

Bloomquist says there is opportunity for significant growth and widespread adoption of generative AI and machine learning in New Zealand.

AWS has operated here for 10 years, and plans to open a data centre in Auckland next year as part of a $7.5 billion investment to build “world-class computing infrastructure in the city”, estimated to create up to 1000 new jobs and contribute $10.8b to the economy over the next 15 years.

Bloomquist says Amazon is investing in New Zealand as it is an economy made up of more than 90% small and medium-sized businesses, presenting opportunities for innovation, leveraging technology and to scale both its own business and that of its partners.





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