AI, artificial intelligence, has been through several boom and bust cycles. Today the pronouncements are everywhere with AI coming soon to everything from medicine to your underwear. For those of us working through “the AI winter”, it feels good to be the most popular kid on the block. Remember though, what management promises, we will have to deliver.

I have been lucky to work with AI technology in language for the past eight years and as we worked to find traction, I was exposed to a huge variety of client requests.  Some are looking for a magic box, no doubt influenced by IBM Watson’s ability to write songs for Bob Dylan or (you pick your favorite) or generally the hype around all of the recently anointed experts in AI and how its going to replace humans in the workplace.  Here’s a recent conversation,

“Can your AI find the situations I’m looking for in SEC filings?”, Portfolio Manager

“What are you looking for?”, us.

“I don’t know, but I know it when I see it”, PM

The second conversation was with the head of research at a UK fund,

“We have been reading about all the wonderful things AI could do and we want to purchase some “AI”.

As you know, the deeper you get into your field the harder it is to remember what it’s like to not know what you know. These were smart people in their field, but they did not have a data repository, everything was on analyst PCs, not the cloud, and had no analytics capability. While we completed a small proof of concept, it failed to get approval because “our analysts say they already read everything anyway”. I should have seen that coming.  Since we could see the value in this market, it did inspire us to start Boulder Equity Analytics.

If you’re in the AI business, you’ve probably run into a similar request, either from a prospective customer or from your own management. Maybe your marketing department already asked you for some AI to put into a product or added AI to the website. Now you’re supposed to figure out what sort of machine learning you can put in the product, whether or not it does anything useful. It’s just software, right?

Remember the 1990’s (maybe you don’t but you’ve heard stories) when the internet arrived and every business had to have an internet “strategy”. Executives that didn’t know how to turn on a PC were jumping on the bandwagon, and most thought a website was an internet strategy.

AI practitioners, keep it grounded and fight back if it gets stupid (leave if you have to, this is moving fast). Don’t be co-opted into the marketing buzz and don’t let management that has no experience with AI try to implement an “AI” strategy from a 15 minute YouTube video.

Managers, read the technical articles that are debunking the exaggerated claims (like this piece by Yoav Goldberg) so you know the real state of the field. Talk to experts and ask questions, challenge them on the fail modes, the testing and the risks.

Know that this is going to change your life, your organization, your markets and your customers. The claims are real but do your homework and make your team do theirs. Implementing an “AI” strategy is not a software project or something you can buy. You need to start small, build a small team and execute some small projects. You do not need a big budget but you do need the right AI tech, a domain expert, access to the data and good application developers who know you don’t tell it what to do, you teach it. And before attempting this, you should already have a good analytics foundation and culture (Read this great article from HBR If Your Company Isn’t Good at Analytics, It’s Not Ready for AI by Nick Harrison and Deborah O’Neill).

Here at ai-one, we are following our own advice, recruiting domain expert from Cantor Fitzgerald, the data from EdgarOnline, the SEC and SeekingAlpha, and analytics expert KDD Analytics to partner in Boulder Equity Analytics. We licensed our technology to experts in DoD and government intel at ISC Consulting Group.  We also launched a service from Zurich called AI Readiness to help project managers prepare for their first AI project.

Enough said, don’t wait. Everything you’ve read about the exponential nature of the progress and its impact is true and coming fast. The impact will be personal. Here at ai-one and our partners, we offer a simple value proposition to analysts, “if you read for a living, you need our AI solutions”.

(this post appeared in essentially the same form originally on Medium)