How companies can use AI to get ahead of the competition

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Leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) provides companies with a unique and enduring competitive advantage, witnessed by the fact that AI-first companies are the world’s only trillion-dollar companies. That’s the view of Ash Fontana, a leading global start-up investor with a specialist interest in artificial intelligence and author of The AI FirstHow to Compete and Win with Artificial Intelligence.

“AI is the one that compounds most quickly and is the hardest to catch up to. Once you build it, it becomes a loop and it builds itself which is why it is so powerful,” he tells The Irish Times.

In the book, Fontana frames AI as the third wave of economic development.

The first wave, the physical, dates back to the Stone Age. Think rope traps and spears, tools that allowed us to go beyond our immediate physical reach to gather more food than we could with our bare hands. However, this physical leverage was limited by scale and our intellectual capacity.

The second wave brought intellectual leverage. It started with the printing press which allowed us to distribute information, with computers following, extending our intellectual reach. Insights were limited, however. Artificial intelligence, the third wave, provides decision-making leverage, he says.

Making fabrics

Fontana uses the example of producing fabrics to illustrate the point. The physical age brought the loom which made it possible to stitch fabrics faster than by hand. The information age allowed computers to turn drawings into patterns for the loom to weave.

The third wave changes the game: computers scan photos on social media, figure out consumer trends, draw up new styles and turn drawings into patterns for the loom. New styles hit the stores just as they become fashionable.

In the world of AI, the collection of data is merely the starting point. Deploy the right network of interlocking datasets, filters and tools and you can develop a flywheel effect.

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