Written by:
Alex Liggatt

Love it or hate it, Facebook is taking AI seriously

I often hear business leaders dropping the words ‘artificial intelligence’ (AI) into conversation, but I wonder how many actually put those words into action.

The figure is far fewer than you (and I) might think: just 2% of businesses are currently using AI. Unsurprisingly, Facebook is one of that 2%.

Over the years, Facebook has become the tech company people love to hate. It’s been blamed for everything from undermining elections and encouraging bullying to causing divorces. It’s even been accused of discouraging people from adopting pets from Battersea Dogs’ Home. As far as reputations go, it’s not the best…

So, when I heard that the social media giant had snatched up an AI startup, I knew it would divide opinion.

Facebook has acquired GrokStyle, the brains behind Ikea’s augmented reality feature that allows you to take a photo of a chair or lamp and use it to find similar Ikea products.

The way I see it, the acquisition makes complete sense. Facebook has been investing in AI for some time (think textual analysis, facial recognition and targeted advertising) so GrokStyle is an obvious choice.

Plus, the camera functionality will be a great addition to Facebook’s Marketplace (something my wheeler dealer Mother will love whilst searching Somerset for her next antique bargain).

The innovative technology is just what Marketplace customers need to buy and sell their items. And even though Mark Zuckerberg tells us he’s not driven by money, I’m sure the potential for advertising has not gone unnoticed.

As a regular online shopper, I’m all about intuitive online dealings and am keen to see where Facebook takes its drive for greater AI.

I guess I’m what’s known as the target audience, and can certainly see myself pulling up the Facebook camera app, pointing it at a chair and seeing if anyone is selling something similar on the site (and I won’t be the only one!)

Of course, not everyone is as excited. The combination of Facebook (a company not everyone trusts) and AI (a technology that scares many people) could just be a step too far.

However, it’s something we’re going to see more and more of – especially in retail.

Retail is at the forefront of AI (behind only financial services) and more tech executive roles are popping up across the sector. Levi Strauss has gone a step further, taking AI to the C-suite.

The company recently appointed its first senior vice president and chief strategy and artificial intelligence officer. According to the press release, the role has been created to help the company translate data analytics into meaningful decisions to drive business value and competitive advantage.

In other words, they’re seeing how AI can benefit customers (and make the company some money along the way).

Of course, AI is not going to be the right solution for every issue facing retailers, but keep an eye out for that 2% rising soon…


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