Orange at VivaTechnology Paris, 2nd edition

Orange is back for the second edition of VivaTech in Paris, the place to be for innovation right now. The conference opened today, Thursday 15 June, with all eyes on AI: the subject of Stéphane Richard’s keynote, dedicated to “the new artificial intelligence economy”, is one of the event’s first topics. Here’s an overview of what’s in store for AI in 2017.

AI, a new invisible reality

As stated by Stéphane Richard, “AI technologies are not new – nor are the issues and dilemmas they raise. Why the infatuation today? Because the enormous advances in deep learning, the technology at the heart of AI, mean it is entering a new dimension: it’s already part of our everyday life.”

AI has slipped into our lives gradually. We can already do without human pilots on most flights, but the applications that are impacting us daily are more widespread – such as the algorithms that dictate Uber fares or send us film or online shopping recommendations.

Revolutionizing network and customer service

According to Stéphane Richard, being a telecoms operator means, “managing millions of micro-operations every day, the sum of which provides you with the connectivity you need at any given moment.” When it comes to networks, AI means the virtual capabilities that can be exploited 24/7.

“This represents an enormous potential for improving network efficiency and also customer experience, for an even more personalized service.”

In addition to networks, Orange is using AI across vertical sectors such as banking and e-health. In these areas, chatbots and virtual assistants will soon be able to handle millions of simultaneous requests with no downtime, and accomplish the vast majority of customer service tasks. All in a more personalized way…

This was the exact topic of discussion for participants at a workshop organized by the start-up, a Cisco partner. The issue is that, “the scaling of bots is a recurrent problem. Everyone wants to use bots on a massive scale, but it’s too complicated to implement and use as part of a 24/7 and multilingual service.” If there’s one thing to remember it’s that, “do-it-all and ready-to-use bots don’t exist! It’s about dealing with the most frequent cases more precisely, and build from there.”

Preparing for revolution while calming anxieties

Where there’s automation, there’s also often replacement. This doesn’t necessarily cause concern, says Stéphane Richard: “There are threats, but I’m optimistic. Some jobs will be replaced by AI, but I see technologies as a way to improve the quality of jobs we offer young people. By facilitating access to health and culture, AI can help us build a better world.” Some fears, however, do remain.

The governance of data, the raw material of AI, is an essential issue. “Data is tomorrow’s petrol,” says Stéphane Richard. “It’s a resource that needs a global and equitable framework, in Europe and in the USA, for telecoms players as much as for GAFA (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple).”

Ensuring operator independence

When it comes to virtual assistants, GAFA derive considerable power from their central, cloud-based models. Orange has chosen a different model for its virtual assistant Djingo (opens in a new window), who learns customer emotions and behaviors. “Our goal is to be close to the user,” says Stéphane Richard, “Our mission is to use our presence on the ground to provide useful services and ensure AI is serving people.” This implies giving users much greater control over their personal data.

The French start-up Snips, a partner who will join Orange at VivaTech, identifies with this commitment. For the COO Yann Lechelle, operators who add value beyond bandwidth will have a competitive advantage in the war over platforms. “Entering into the voice assistant space, as Orange has done with Djingo, is a way to guarantee the operator’s independence,” he explains. For its own voice assistant technology, Snips has chosen to integrate privacy right from the design stage so that the service can work locally and offline. Yann highlights, “Your voice is a biometric marker: it shouldn’t just be left out on a server somewhere!”

Very soon, good privacy practices will no longer just be a matter of corporate good will: the General Data Protection Regulation is coming into force in 2018, and many players will have to redouble their ingenuity to adapt to these new uses.