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Artificial intelligence: past and future

By Hugh McKellar, KMWorld executive editor

Nearly 10 years ago, the Department of Commerce issued a technology assessment of the U.S. artificial intelligence (AI) market. The researchers defined AI for us then by saying the systems could “1) help organizations manage knowledge assets and deal with complexity, 2) help experts solve difficult analysis problems and design new devices, 3) learn from examples, 4) provide answers to English questions using both structured data and free text.”

The report estimated the 1993 global AI market—including technologies such as expert systems, neural networks fuzzy logic, robotics, speech recognition, search, etc.—at about $900 million—and the United States was clearly ahead of the rest of the world in the development of those systems. At the time, though, this country. was beginning to fall behind foreign competitors in certain areas of robotics, neural networks, expert systems, fuzzy logic and machine learning.

Back then, the AI funding came largely from the government, with significant contributions from the Department of Defense, and the military applications of artificial intelligence were widely deployed in Desert Storm (and are certainly well integrated into the current U.S. arsenal). On the commercial AI side, the researchers noted, between 70% and 80% of the Fortune 500 used AI in some way, primarily in manufacturing, data management, transportation, diagnostics and financial services. On the other hand, they said, AI technology came out of the laboratory before corporate computing was ready, hence slower adoption and some market resistance.

What a difference a decade makes, as we point out in our Industry Snapshot on p. 1. In April, Business Communication Company (BCC) will release a thorough new study of the worldwide artificial intelligence market, which it predicts will reach more than $21 billion by 2007 with an average annual growth rate from 2002 to 2007 of 12.2%. In 2002 alone, BCC calculates the worldwide market was $11.9 billion, with the growth strongest in the United States, although the European and Asia Pacific regions will see a greater AAGR due to growth in the financial services and transportation sectors, say the BCC researchers. The report, which boasts a sticker-shocking price of $3,750, targets five AI technologies: expert systems, belief networks, decision support systems, neural networks and agents.

It further points to belief networks ($2.2 billion, 13.1% AAGR through 2007) and neural networks ($4.5 billion, 12.6%), along with expert systems as the fastest growing AI components. BCC emphasizes that the strongest growth in the AI market will come through the enhancement of existing applications, and it cites business intelligence and customer relationship management as prime examples—and we certainly see it strongly influencing online catalog shopping.

These AI-enhanced applications will become more diverse because of their greater ability to assess the increasing multiple variables and cross industry lines. BCC points to finance, defense/domestic security and education as areas with strong interest and implementation of AI enhancement applications.

Finally, BCC shows sound judgment in its assessment of the role of AI, which, as a term, has been abused and mythologized in today’s culture. It emphasizes that artificial intelligence used in conjunction with existing applications and larger systems can intrinsically enhance both the application and the system

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