Inaugural AI conference, Microsoft Future Now, set to inspire New Zealand
Industry leaders and influencers gathered at the Microsoft Future Now Conference in Auckland (25 October 2018), focusing on how to harness AI as a catalyst for growth.
By 2021, more than half of New Zealand’s GDP will be derived from digital products and services, and AI will be a major factor in this growth. Future Now is already over-subscribed, demonstrating the intense level of interest in artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Keynote speakers at this year’s event included Jourdan Templeton, Chief Technology Officer at local Data Services company Aware Group, who will be speaking on how AI can solve global environmental challenges; Ryan Fuller, Workplace Analytics lead at Microsoft US; healthcare innovation expert Gabe Rijpma, Senior Director Health and Social Services for Microsoft Asia; and Gareth Beaumont of Kiwi breast-imaging leader Volpara.
Keynote speakers and breakout sessions provided an opportunity to discuss the critical issue of the ethics and regulations required to ensure AI has a positive impact on both commerce and society.
Russell Craig, National Technology Officer for Microsoft New Zealand says the impact of AI cannot be overstated: “AI is set to transform the entire fabric of our society the same way the invention of steam engines did nearly 200 years ago. But during periods of great progress, we also risk leaving people behind and focusing on growth at the expense of wellbeing. It’s crucial we have a strong ethical framework in place to support those whose jobs are affected by digital disruption and safeguard people’s privacy, security and humanity in an age of Big Data. With this in mind, our ‘fireside chat’ on the ethics of AI and its future will bring up some useful discussions.”
Craig said the purpose of the conference is to show that the major advances in AI have real-world applications for businesses and government departments, with implications for everyone on the planet. He says Kiwi organisations can unlock their potential with just a few small changes that help empower employees, engage customers and extend their capabilities beyond existing limits.
“AI needs to be accessible to all – consumers, businesses and developers – to transform not only our businesses but the way our society operates. We’ve moved on from talking about what we need to do, to how we can do it. The future really is happening now.”
AI is already transforming almost every sector, from retail to healthcare, agriculture, financial services and education. Globally, the retail sector alone is predicted to see productivity and customer advocacy double in a little over a year.
‘The kind of increases we’ve seen to our GDP this year will be impossible to sustain without a real commitment to technologies such as machine learning, IoT, intelligent data analysis tools and AI,’ says Craig. ‘It’s not enough simply to optimise our business processes – we need to think holistically about transforming our entire business model and being competitive on a global playing field.”
The benefits can be significant. According to a recent Microsoft study, the financial services sector is expected to realise some of the largest gains from AI, boosting customer acquisition rates 70% within two years through more personalised service that allows recommendations based on customers’ spending behaviour. Meanwhile, retailers this year saw profits increase between 11-16% on 2017 after embracing smart technology. 
Stretched healthcare services are set to be transformed, with lives as well as costs saved by the shift from hospital-based care towards empowering patients to manage their own health using intelligent tools that can predict health events like strokes or diabetic shock before they occur. Worldwide, 40% of all digital transformation in the sector will be supported by AI as early as next year.
At Future Now, breakout sessions were focused on showing industry leaders and technology experts how to apply AI in their own organisations across financial services, education, agriculture and more.
Other topics under discussion included using drone technology to capture data, deploying holograms and mixed reality to transform business operations and engaging customers with AI.
— Microsoft Tech NZ (@MicrosoftTechNZ) October 25, 2018
  IDC Microsoft “Unlocking the Economic Impact of Digital Transformation in Asia Pacific, 2018
(Originally posted in the Microsoft New Zealand New Centre)
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