The possibilities of Artificial Intelligence [AI] were underscored in 2015 when Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo programme triumphed over the reigning world champion in Go, a profoundly complex Chinese board game. In 2017, a newer programme, AlphaGo Zero, beat the original AlphaGo, 100 times to nil.

Information technology now allows the gathering, storage and analysis of vast data sets, needed to mimic the computational power of the human brain. This brings hope and also fears that manual work will be replaced by robots and decision-making by algorithms.

In 2012, Google algorithms learned to find videos of cats on YouTube. Google’s researchers created a neutral network of 16,000 computer processors with one billion connections that achieved 75% accuracy. The machine was never told what a cat was but it invented the concept of a cat. This technology now allows AI-based face recognition to act as the password to unlock the iPhone X.

Many industries offer great data sets. If AI can help identify patterns and make better, faster decisions, it will drive higher sales, cut costs and even save lives.

NVIDIA, a US semiconductor company manufactures graphics processors that accelerate 3D graphics, helping drive the boom in video games. These chips also perform key tasks that drive machine-learning systems. The result is increased sales and the company’s share price has risen more than 800% in the last 3 years.

Tesco, the UK retailer, is planning to automate every part of its retail infrastructure from carts, to tills to shelves to allow for the capture and storage of data. The data will be used to control costs and target higher sales through a deeper understanding of individual customers.

US health insurer, United Health has one of the largest data sets in the industry. It monitors health data of tens of millions of patients, from drug prescriptions to hospital visits. It is working on detecting early changes in its customers’ health using AI and hopes to be able to predict diabetes long before it develops and to intervene early to help its customers manage or prevent the disease.

The speed of AI progress has been spectacular and the winners will be companies that not only have the right data but also understand how to use it.