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By Nicholas Wegman, PhD | September 07, 2023

AI 101: Automating the Mundane

Two AI experts attempt to demystify the science behind AI while explaining why AI may – or may not – be the right technology tool for your business.

*This post was co-authored by Alex Barnes, Senior Director of Product Management, antuit.ai, part of Zebra. 

With all the buzz surrounding AI, it can sometimes feel like we've stepped out of a sci-fi movie and into a new reality. AI has been a captivating area of research and development since the 1950s, with its advancements rapidly evolving over time. Now aided by immense compute power, it is far more accessible than ever before. ChatGPT, which is a form of generative AI, stands as a testament to this progress – it has been the fastest-growing AI in history, with 100 million users recorded within just two months following its public launch in late November 2022. 

But what exactly does this revolutionary technology do?  

In short, AI equips machines with abilities that previously could only be performed by humans, enabling computers to learn from experience, adjust new inputs, and carry out human-related tasks such as recognizing speech or images, translating languages, and playing games. AI can also be applied to business decision-making processes by automating mundane tasks or analyzing large datasets quickly and accurately.  

As the discussions around AI applications have progressed from academia to social media to the world at large, more businesses are looking at where it might boost their productivity—and enhance their bottom line. They are also considering legitimate ethical concerns about what these complex, opaque AI systems may do that could potentially cause more societal harm than economic good – an unwelcome byproduct of the generative AI boom. However, as our colleague and AI engineer Stuart Hubbard noted in his recent blog post, The Truth About AI: What Mainstream Media Coverage is Missing, “…the AI you would use to make your business run better – the AI you need to hit your business targets this year – is not the generative AI that’s drawing ire or fueling speculative fear among government officials, tech industry leaders, academic communities and the general public.” 

So, we’d like to clear up a bit of the headline-grabbing confusion and help you understand the type of AI that you would use to make your business run better: adaptive AI. 

What Makes Artificial Intelligence So Intelligent? 

One of the most impressive aspects of AI technology is its ability to analyze large, complex data sets with a level of accuracy and precision that exceeds human capabilities. The insights that AI can provide may feel like magic, or mysterious “black box” technology. In laymen’s terms, AI is simply the combination of human-formed mathematical principles with modern computing power.  

That’s right: the foundation and origins of AI can be traced back to linear algebra, calculus, probability, and statistics; subjects that have been around for hundreds of years and that you have probably studied, if not applied, at some point in your life, possibly with some frustration—if not a disappointing report card. 

In turn, it’s not that AI is thinking any differently than humans would, it’s just that they have more “brain power” driving their analysis and calculations, so they can arrive at conclusions more quickly and with more certainty than we can. And because these AI systems can process large amounts of data and learn models in a reasonable amount of time, they can work faster than us—and appear smarter. In data-dependent fields like medicine, finance, transportation, and more, they can arrive at answers and provide recommendations in record time—truly a game-changing advance. 

AI’s Sweet Spot: Demand Forecasts on Demand 

AI-powered demand forecasting is becoming increasingly popular in the retail and consumer packaged goods (CPG) sectors, as it offers predictive insights into future customer behavior and spending habits. Many forward-thinking companies are already leveraging AI technologies for tasks such as automated customer service, product recommendation systems, inventory management, and fraud detection. Bimbo Bakeries USA is one of them, as you can read about here: 

Empowering the Frontline: Inside Grupo Bimbo’s AI-Powered Transformation in Its Bakeries and the Stores It Stocks

When it comes to the emerging science behind demand forecasting and planning, AI algorithms can quickly analyze large datasets to identify complex patterns that indicate anticipated demand changes, providing retailers and CPG companies the agility to adjust stock to get ahead of those changes. AI can also detect subtle trends in customer buying behavior, such as seasonal variations or changes in preferences over time, allowing retailers to adapt their product mix and allocations accordingly. 

But this is just one of the many profound ways in which AI can transform the retail and CPG industries in profound ways.  

Consider a scenario where a buyer or a buy planner no longer needs to manually wield spreadsheets, reconciling disparate data inputs and numerous passwords. AI-powered tools could automate data collection and analysis, informing buyers exactly what they need to order, why and when. An automated, AI-powered alternative could represent a turnkey solution. Similarly, AI can help buyers manage in-season markdowns more effectively by analyzing sell-through rates and other key metrics, freeing them from the tedious task of manually inputting data into spreadsheets. For supply chain managers, AI can provide more accurate demand forecasts by analyzing historical data and market trends.  

Besides expediting—if not eliminating—mundane processes, AI can empower managers to confirm the right move in real time to save (and make) money with considerably less human bandwidth. 

In fact, for one of our healthcare CPG clients, AI-powered demand forecasting and planning technology proved to be instrumental in addressing a major issue affecting their flagship category, a popular line of over-the-counter cold and flu remedies. Through its ability to quickly distill an abundance of data from various sources, the AI demand planning technology drastically simplified complex tasks such as aggregation and evaluation. As a result, the client learned that they were sacrificing considerable profits due to high promotion costs, especially since they weren’t able to compete with other brands on price point. They shared these newfound data-driven insights with analysts who in turn crafted outside-the-box strategies around optimizing promotional performance whilst driving sales success within the category. Problem solved. 

The Takeaway 

You can save time and money while improving your team’s efficiency by adopting adaptive AI to automate mundane tasks, analyze the large amount data being ingested by your systems, and pinpoint both issues and their root causes. 


Editor’s Note:  

This is the first in a three-part ‘AI 101’ series from Nick and Alex. In their next post, they’ll take a deeper look at the data science behind AI and how it leverages a wealth of existing information into improved business outcomes. In the meantime, feel free to contact the antuit.ai team to learn more about how Zebra is working with retailers and CPG companies like Bimbo to help make people’s jobs easier so they can do more for customers. 

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