Artificial Intelligence
Leadership|April 2020
Is artificial intelligence reinventing insurance? This was the question posed by Bill Hoggarth, national sales manager, Digital Business Solutions at high performing and secure ICT solutions provider, Datacentrix. He was speaking at the recent Robotics, Drones and AI in Insurance Conference, held in Rosebank, Johannesburg. In answer to the question, Hoggarth clarified that no, he did not believe artificial intelligence (AI) was changing the nature of insurance–at least, not on its own. “My view is that AI is not reinventing insurance, but that it is part of the mix of technologies that is causing a shift in insurance today,” he said.
Wela Mlokoti

AI and insurance in broad strokes

AI is the imitation of human intelligence processes by machines, especially computer systems. In the insurance industry, some people believe that AI is set to revolutionise the customer experience by enabling insurers to provide products and service levels that are more aligned with today’s customer expectations.

According to Hoggarth, the use of AI in insurance should be able to assist with the following:

• Providing simpler, faster, more transparent and more affordable insurance products;

• Allowing insurance providers and other organisations to automate many tasks and processes that may have required human intervention in the past;

• Providing a range of tools and technologies that can understand contextual human speech or text, and reasoning algorithms that can create predictive models and anticipate behaviour, and finally

• Enabling the use of friendly chatbots to help customers with inquiries and questions.

A quick look at the history of AI

“If we look at the history of AI, it begins in the 1950s,” explained Hoggarth. “Alan Turing, the British mathematician, cryptoanalyst and computer scientist, proposed the Turing Test in 1950, which is a test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human.

“In 1955, computer scientist John McCarthy coined the term ‘artificial intelligence’ to describe the science and engineering of making intelligent machines.”

Today, said Hoggarth, AI forms a significant part of the modern world in which we live, and includes the use of applications and services such as Waze, Google Maps, and Uber, that assist people with travelling to their destinations timeously; and Apple’s virtual assistant Siri, and Amazon’s Alexa—to name but a few.

“Of course, the path of AI hasn’t always run smoothly,” he added. “We often refer to the period encompassing the 1970s, 80s and early 1990s as being the ‘winter’ of AI, when many false starts and dead ends were leaving AI out in the cold. You could say that it started gaining momentum once more around 1997, when IBM’s chess-playing computer, Deep Blue, first defeated world chess champion Gary Kasparov.

“Since then, AI has really taken off at an accelerating pace, but it still isn’t always plain sailing. It was only as recently as 2016 that Microsoft’s chatbot Tay went rogue on social media, making inflammatory and racist comments. So as much as AI is more intelligent today than it was back in the so-called winter of the period, we must remember that it’s not infallible.”

AI becoming mainstream

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