From the October 2002 issue of Entrepreneur

Artificial intelligence: It's not just talking about robots and supercomputers that have feelings. Don't think you'll be using any AI in your business? Too late-it's already everywhere: in your copy machines, in elevators and in your modem and cell phone, just to scratch the surface. "(AI) is embedded in all kinds of things," says Kevin Dowd, president of natural language processing pioneer Brainhat. "It's changing the way you do business by virtue of the fact that it's part of the infrastructure around you." You probably don't notice it, though, because the term "AI" tends to disappear as the technology works its way into practical applications.

We've seen AI technology pop up in big companies with automated online assistants or through phone calls where you talk to a machine to navigate the menu. But some of the more noticeable AI applications, such as natural language and robotics, will work their way into growing businesses soon. If Dowd, 43, gets his way, we'll even be having deep conversations with our toasters and office buildings in a few years.

One of the best uses that could come out of all this is a more natural computing interface. Goodbye mouse and keyboard; "Hello, Computer." For Dowd's East Hartford, Connecticut, company, intelligence is the key to improving what has been pretty spotty AI language processing. "If you add intelligence to speech, you have a better recognition rate because it helps to guide the speech engine's understanding." Effective speech technology could also lend itself to automated help-desk functions for businesses that otherwise wouldn't, or couldn't afford to, staff a call center.

Dowd also points to how AI could boost interactivity online to the benefit of both customer and business. Brainhat is involved in a project to make AI-enabled FAQs that can garner feedback from users. Dowd sees varied applications becoming reality over the next few years.

While there will be uses for AI across the technology board in business, AI is also an intriguing area for start-ups. Dowd cautiously predicts AI will become an entertainment vehicle and is preparing Brainhat for when such a market materializes. "It's a gamble," he says, but a visionary tech entrepreneur could tackle other potential AI markets or build on a specific AI project in an industry such as aerospace.

"[AI] is going to be a huge area," says Dowd. "People are going to be all over it. It's a reasonable 'next big thing' because the technologies to enable it seem to be coming together."

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