Kittipong Jirasukhanont/123RF

The AI Influencer Series Part 1: Nigel Willson

  • 15 March 2018
  • Expert Insights

This post is part of our new AI Influencer series where we interview the world's leading AI experts to get their take on the state of the industry, the top trends to watch for, and what the future holds.

The following is an interview we recently had with Nigel Willson, Global Strategist at Microsoft.

1. What are the top trends you have noticed in AI?

NW: From a technical perspective increased interest and adoption of ‘cognitive computing’ AI solutions based on deep learning, such as, speech recognition, image recognition and language translation and understanding – as these AI solutions become more powerful, more people are exploring the possibilities.

Another trend is an increased interest in AI and AI driven capabilities from within the business – with solutions and focus on solving complex business problems, rather than finding ways to adopt the technologies for technologies sake.

Finally, everyone wants to hear about and understand practical ways they can use AI now within their solutions and organisations.

2. What applications for AI make it a game changer in the tech sphere?

NW: That’s a challenging question as the best applications for AI when implemented well aren’t visible because they become an embedded part of the solution. I think the areas that will become game-changing are where AI is used in combination with another technology, such as AI + Virtual/Augmented Reality, AI + IoT, AI + Blockchain. The combination of AI and other transformative technologies will see the biggest returns.

3. What is, in your opinion, the industry in which AI has the greatest disruptive impact?


In terms of the greatest disruption I personally think this will be medical & healthcare. As people live longer the pressure on healthcare services builds, AI could have a massive impact for the benefit of everyone, in terms of predictive analytics to make sure valuable resources are used and deployed most effectively, removing repetitive tasks from doctors to allow them more patient time, analysing data (such as scans) to improve accuracy and early diagnosis. I think we have only scratched the surface in this area and there great opportunities and breakthroughs waiting ahead.  

4. Would you say that the AI industry is evolving as rapidly as you anticipated, less rapidly, or about as expected? What makes you say this?

NW: It is evolving rapidly, but not as rapidly as the hype would make you believe! Great progress is being made and records being set all the time, with human parity met or exceeded in a number of AI cognitive areas (such as speech recognition), and that will continue and algorithms will get better and even more accurate over time. But the media and press are still overhyping what is practically achievable today and focussed on the more sensational news stories.

5. What do you see as the most difficult-to-overcome limitations for AI?

NW: There are less technical and more ethical issues & blockers. I see and hear real concerns over loss of control and choice as a result of AI being introduced into more systems, whether those concerns are real or perceived – it could slow down progress being made.

The other area to overcome is that Data Science and Machine Learning are seen as, and are, pretty complex to understand and use– to get wide adoption we need to continue to make the tools easy to use & be able to visualise and discover insights easily.

6. What’s the future of AI?

NW: In the short term AI systems and solutions will continue to be democratised and made available to more people and wider markets to easily use and consume. Through API’s (application programming interfaces) and through pre-trained machine learning models – the simplification of consuming these services will lead to more increased adoption and usage, this in turn will lead to more accurate solutions as the models continue to be trained with more and more data.

Longer term, AI intelligence as it is, will move to more and more devices, with AI solutions that are currently cloud based running locally on devices, bringing AI solutions like Language Translation to small unconnected devices. At the same time cloud AI solutions will become exponentially more powerful with the advent of Quantum Computing, and we will find new problems to solve at the biological and chemistry levels, such as cures for diseases, new drugs and materials, and increased efficiencies in production of food and energy.

About Nigel Willson

For nearly 20 years at Microsoft, Nigel has been helping his clients to write the future. As a Global Strategist at Microsoft, Nigel is currently focused on bringing innovative and creative solutions to clients in the Professional Services Sector. He is proud of his achievements, but is more excited about contributing to the future to come.

Outside of Microsoft, Nigel is active on social media, where is one of the top influencers on Artificial Intelligence  – you can find him on LinkedIn (NigelWillson), and Twitter () where he expresses his opinions on innovation, Artificial Intelligence and the future of technology.

About Expert Insights