B.C.’s most profitable adopting artificial intelligence

Video surveillance firm among businesses supplementing human workforce with AI
Avigilon Corporation is using artificial intelligence in its video analytics software to locate specific people or vehicles

There’s no doubt most people associate artificial intelligence with sci-fi movies or spy novels, says Alex Fernandes.

“Except that today, here and now, we’re doing it for real,” the CEO and founder of Avigilon Corp. (TSX:AVO) told Business in Vancouver on Roundhouse Radio. “It’s actually not science fiction but science fact.”

The Vancouver-based tech firm, which ranks 66th on BIV’s 2017 Top 100 Most Profitable Companies in B.C. list, develops software and hardware for video surveillance.

The use of video surveillance is widespread – an estimated 200 million surveillance cameras are deployed across the world – but, Fernandes said, it can be prohibitively expensive and impractical to hire people to monitor them around the clock.

To reduce the reliance on humans, who can miss things when staring at a screen for extended periods, Avigilon is using artificial intelligence (AI) for its video analytics tools.

“What analytics is about is putting intelligence into the video,” he said.

The AI tools, he said, can perform a wide range of functions, from, say, reading the licence plates of stolen vehicles to identifying human faces.

Fernandes said AI is allowing law enforcement agencies to bypass the “needle in a haystack” elements of their jobs when combing over footage during an investigation.

A June 2017 report from the McKinsey Global Institute estimated AI-enabled operational savings could represent costs savings of 1% to 2% of GDP in the U.S. and 0.5% to 1% in other developed economies.

The report surveyed “AI-aware” firms and found 82% do not expect to significantly reduce the size of their workforces as a result of implementing AI tools, “owing in part to increased demand for new skills.”

Meanwhile, BlueShore Financial CEO Chris Catliff acknowledged artificial intelligence will likely lead to job losses in the same way that technological advances in the 20th century left elevator operators and stenographers by the wayside.

“AI can do massively repeatable tasks instantly,” said Catliff, whose credit union ranked 64th on BIV’s most-profitable list this year. “But it will never be a physical education teacher or a social worker or a counsellor, anything with the soft, emotional intelligence skills that are required.”

He said the role of AI is to enhance, not replace, the human element within the workforce.

BlueShore is using AI-powered technology for the automated advisory services it plans to launch in 2018.

And the credit union is also using machine learning to predict when customers in its target demographic are preparing to sell an expensive home.

The model, which is accurate 50% of the time, found customers are in sales mode if they’ve created five deposit accounts within the last month.

The significance of the accounts, according to Catliff, is that they signal members are spreading out the tax burden by depositing sums in different accounts.

“When that transaction happens, it’s a flood of activity for us and it’s a huge opportunity,” Catliff said. “And it’s a huge threat that they’ll go somewhere else.”

The machine-learning predictive model, he said, allows the credit union to reach out to customers ahead of the home sale and offer assistance.

“The ability for these systems to predict and make helpful suggestions [to customers] is really the value prop that these systems bring,” Alex Chan, Central 1 Credit Union’s senior product manager of mobile banking and payments, told BIV on Roundhouse Radio.

The credit union, which ranked No. 11 on BIV’s list, is among the Canadian financial institutions integrating AI into their banking platforms.

Chan said financial institutions are realizing significant cost savings by steering customers towards AI-powered digital channels like chatbots for customer support.

For example, there’s no need to contact a call centre agent if a customer can tell his or her Apple (Nasdaq:AAPL) HomePod to transfer money into an account.

“It comes down to having the right technological platform to support those systems,” he said.

But Chan said financial institutions have to be diligent about ensuring AI-powered technology is safe to be deployed due to the sensitivity of handling people’s money.

“It’s not like ordering a taco where you get it wrong and it’s not a big deal.”

torton@biv.com

@reporton
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