Telcos are precious about their data and it’s making AI hard – Ericsson

Artificial intelligence promises to be one of the key drivers for the next industrial revolution but until telcos become a bit more liberal with their data the benefits will never be felt.

This is according to Ulrika Jägare (the surname means Huntress in Swedish), Ericsson’s Director Analytics and Machine Intelligence. The reason we haven’t cracked AI for the moment is because it is really complicated and the telcos don’t want to share their data.

“We haven’t put the whole puzzle together yet,” said Jägare.

When it comes to the data, the telcos are being miserly, but there is perhaps a good reason for this. Many are concerned about security, the legalities and privacy implications, and with GDPR just around the corner this is very warranted, but it does put the industry in a bit of a catch-22 situation for AI.

Jägare highlighted to us that for AI to work effectively telcos have to release data to make sure the algorithms are effective. AI works best as a “As a Service” offering because the applications can be trained, though due to the reasons above many telcos want intelligence built into products, hosted internally so the data never leaves the business. Unfortunately, without the scale of data applications cannot be trained as effectively. It would appear the privacy conscious telcos are their own worst enemy when it comes to artificial intelligence.

This is not necessarily a massive problem but the insecurities of the big boys in the telco world are holding back progress. The telcos are being conscientious for once and it is hurting them. This is perhaps the first time we have ever written such a statement about a telco, but it is an interesting conundrum.

Trends in this little cul-de-sac of the intelligence world are beginning to turn and progress is being made, but perhaps not as quickly as some would hope. Jägare told us the telcos have big ambitions when it comes to automation, cost efficiency and revenue growth through artificial intelligence, but there does seem to be a bit of a bottleneck in capabilities right now. The ideas are big, but the technology isn’t supporting the dream.

Unfortunately this is just going to be another example of slow progress in the telco world. These are culturally very risk adverse organizations and due to the capital-intense nature of running a telco the status quo is rarely disrupted by an new player entering the market, splashing around new ideas and theories. Ideally a new player would emerge and show everyone how it’s done but there aren’t many Ambani’s in the world.

Slow progress is likely to be the only progress we’re going to see here which is unlucky for the industry. New talent is needed to make best use of emerging technologies such as AI, but the sluggish nature of telecoms is unlikely to appeal to the whizz kids coming out of MIT. Culturally we need to see change, unfortunately this is the most difficult thing to change.

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