ConTech Forum, June 2019

I don’t know about you, but when I hear the words AI, Artificial Intelligence - my mind immediately jumps to the thought of robots and computers making the decisions that humans should. After attending the ConTech Forum event I learned that this really isn’t the whole story and there are some wonderful examples of where AI are supporting humans - particularly in the publishing sector.

AI and data are words that have been associated with the Professional, Academic and STM sectors of publishing for a long time now, we’ve addressed big data, open access, copyright access and many more issues during publishers lifetimes, and although AI has been around for over 15 years, there has never been so much hype.

Andrew Anderson, an Independent Consultant made the point that AI is there to augment human intelligence - it does this by understanding patterns and relating these patterns back in order to find a solution. The complicated bit always comes with the part that is generated by a human, as no one wants AI running off and responding to messages in an inappropriate manner.

The more patterns the AI will see, the higher the level of confidence measured in %. For example, large travel operators are using AI to recognise patterns in human activity and replicate this - as humans if we complain about something, we are not looking for an automatic response, we are looking for a human acknowledgement - and this does not even need to have an immediate solution. If a human tells us they will be in touch after 48 hours, generally that is ok with us. What AI will do is send a tailored response after an appropriate time (say 30 mins) and follow this with a solution 2 days later. This solution is a suggestion, made by AI and then approved by a human to send - thus increasing the capacity of work for a human.

In a digital era, and in a world where scholarly communications are moving at a much slower pace compared to the technology around us, Freddie Quek, VP Engineering at Arachnys talked about how all organisations need to run and change the business at the same time. The digital era requires digital organisations to achieve speed, scope and scale - all at the same time. This challenge could be our biggest opportunity for the scholarly publishing sector. He urged us to be smart about how we use technology, and to realise that the business value will be to increase the level of accuracy. A great example of this is GDPR - this is helping companies to understand their data and how to use it.

AI is also helping publishers deliver more content, in less time without compromising on quality. Automation helps focus on the technical brain related tasks of the content creation value chain; whilst automating the mundane tasks as much as possible.

The publishers who can use, store and manage data to build better user experiences for their customers are the ones who will be successful in a digital era - publishers need a modern, data driven, content platform to meet the specific needs of their users. This means there is a need to re-educate thousands of experts to create content in the way their users actually need it. 

It seems AI is here to offer solutions and suggestions, not replacements for our publishing activity. It has proven successful in increasing human capacity, improving data accessibility and in helping humans have interactions that are more intelligent. As publishers - we need to ensure our content remains high quality, have clear data that we can measure and that we are delivering what our users want in order to then be able to use AI as effectively as possible. This is a huge opportunity for our industry, and one I cannot wait to hear more about at the ConTech 2019 conference in December!