The other day I was watching my son break his head against math when it struck me that I have no idea what math will do for his future. My father’s script was much simpler – he knew that if Atul Jalan didn’t learn his math, hell waited ahead.

My worry is not the pace of change. Not at all. My worry is that the skills my son learns, might be completely unnecessary when he sets out to do whatever it is in life that he will do. (Which I hope is wine-tasting, an exceptional profession for my son to be in, especially in my golden years.)

I had to learn to use machines to automate. He will have to learn how to collaborate with machines. That, I think is the essential difference. But what does it mean for my son?

The Filters of Civilisation. I like to think of this entire progression as a series of filters that we as a race pass through. The first filter was when we learnt that there was more to tools than fingers. The (36x fast-forward) second filter, was the Industrial Revolution where we created machines to perform tasks. We moved through an automation filter next. And immediately after, the business intelligence filter, where machines were actually helping us take decisions based on data that we had to input. So, going by that logic, what would the next filter be?

Intelligent machines are the filter we are passing through currently. And to misquote the poet, bliss is it in this dawn to be alive. We are moving into a day when machines build on the understanding provided, themselves, in the direction you want them to. An age of smart machines that have the ability to slice data in any which dimension, understand it, build on it and offer us answers.

The age of the smart machine is not in the future.That phone in your pocket, is one.

And we already are influenced by smart machines. Sometimes without even realising how we are using it or how reliant we are on it. Like “Damn you, auto-correct”, for example. The smart keyboard uses language modelling for context (it knows how certain alphabets combine together in a language) and then adds machine learning to it (after a while it suggests words you use oftener) to tailor itself to your need. And if you keep abusing auto-correct enough, it is less likely to offend you as time goes by. My son depends on it!

Damn auto-correct often enough and it will correct itself. Now how do we import this technology into humans?

Your smartphone is the best indication of the future. Your machine already understands your voice. (Do not forget that this means your machine understands your accent and your individual modulation.) Gesture recognition is also available today, so now your machine understands your actions as well. Now add to this Emotion Recognition (this demands that the machine understand social and cultural contexts and you as an individual, again) and you really have a machine that understands you completely, maybe even better than you understand yourself.

This ability of machines to understand us, combined with the power of cloud computing, advanced analytical sciences and Big Data can bring us behavioural insights into every individual on this planet. That is what makes this dawn heaven! I know, it does sound like Carl Sagan, but it is true. We already see this around us.

Know how every human behaves. Know what every human feels.

Very soon (Manthan is working hard towards it), a retail organisation will be able to identify your emotions like trust, expectation, attention, interest or lust they moment your fingertips glide over your keyboard or from your gestures or body movement. Apply analytics and behavioural insights to this knowledge and you are able to trigger the right information flow to the customer.

Now comes the best part. No user needs to understand or even try bothering to understand underlying technologies – but all, can use it. This is what we call Siri-ization of analytics at Manthan.

Yesterday, the power of advanced analytics was limited to analysts and data scientists. In retail, the roles on the floor depended on information and recommendations that trickled down. With Siri-ization, everyone on the floor can use it, real-time, to figure what their next course of action should be. No skill requirement, no hierarchy, nothing.

Siri-ization consumerizes knowledge.

And that happens because the machine already knows your customer inside out. It knows your business inside out. It knows all possible business contexts. It knows competitor pricing. It It understands the categories. It understands trends as of this morning. It knows where the customer is at this precise point in time. It understands preferences. It knows Victoria’s secret. All you need to do, is ask the machine. And thou shalt receive a recommendation. Immediately.

I know this sounds very close to omnipotence and omniscience. But this is where we are today, this is the filter we must pass.

Synthetic Intelligence. Not Artificial.

This is what we used to call Artificial Intelligence not long ago. I personally, prefer to call it Synthetic Intelligence, though. We are not faking it; with all of these technologies that are simultaneously crossing our path, we are duplicating the neural pathways of the brain – to create machines that are intelligent. Intelligent enough, most importantly, to understand a million contexts, dice, analyze and bring you a defined set of right answers.

Which brings us to the next, natural question. With all of these capabilities already with the machine, what will my son do? He has guided recommendations on decisions to be taken, based on a scientific analysis of a large volume of data. With course corrections available every second. So then, what does he do now? What does he do with his innate capacity as a human?

If machine can do all, what will my son do?

I think my son is really fortunate to be born into this day. For I really believe that his tomorrow lies in discovering skills and practices where the quality of human involvement can be deepened. He will be able to bring humanisation and context to Big Data. He will be able to see the exciting insights that lie beneath. He will be able to bring to the fore his (yet) unduplicated skill as a human – empathy. And together they will collaborate to create a consumer environment and experience that will be unparalleled.

“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven!” – Wordsworth

This is true augmentation. With all the new technologies we mentioned above, what we are enabling, is the true potential of the human mind. David Sarnoff said this (what appears like) aeons ago. But it is even truer today. With every advance in technology, we move a step ahead in our ability to frame the questions that machines should answer. What can the machine answer, in a way, becomes our new benchmark.

“The human brain must continue to frame the problems for the machine to solve.” – David Sarnoff

And in the Manthan context, with Siri-isation, every retailer will just need to ask questions. And, discover the next question. That, will truly exploit the creativity in each of us. And this will be true across businesses. Let me give you an example. Very soon, I will be able tell a driver-less car to take me to the supermarket of my choice. But prod the envelope a little more, and my car will be able to suggest the closest supermarket where my needs can be best met.

What we do at Manthan today, is bring together multiple technologies that enables everyone with the power of analytics; thus pushing him to explore his domain deeper. Helping help him and his business rise to a higher level in customer experience and delivery – a business environment where human ability can be better focussed, better optimised to create breakthroughs in the domains we operate in.

As part of its Siri-isation effort, Manthan is looking at Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing, Speech and Gesture Recognition, Facial and Emotion Recognition, Cognitive Reasoning, Guided Analytics, Adaptive Learning and Behavioural Analysis. With these and the power of cloud computing, the volume and complexity of Big Data can be made available, in a disciplined, reasoned fashion, to every business user.

The technologies already exist. Manthan Siri-izes it to bring you the best answers.

Most of what I am talking about, you already use. What Manthan does is bring these technologies together, to enable an analytics-unschooled business user to ask questions and find answers that have mapped the query against every byte of data available to deliver the best business decision.

With Siri-isation, I really believe Manthan (like many others) is moving from the analytics and technology business into the answers business.

Coming back to my son. He needs to develop empathy to ask the right questions tomorrow. For that, does he need math? I don’t know. Should I be teaching him empathy? I wouldn’t know how to do that. But what I do know for certain, is that he will be able to crunch Big Data with a gesture. Decision options will be placed in front of him on a platter. And he will find a way to move on to a higher level of human capability.

True, there are a lot of questions that machines cannot answer today. But wait, that’s today. I would like to believe that there are more filters for us to pass through. Till then, let’s ask and receive.
Ask yourself what you will do tomorrow when the machines get smarter. And you truly will discover what you are capable of.