Two months after its kick-off, around 400 Take the Lead executive education students gathered in Brussels for the inspiration session. The goal was to find out about concrete applications for AI and new digital technologies at close hand. “This day exceeded my expectations,” says Peter Monsieurs from Pontis. “What I found most interesting is that you don’t need to have a huge amount of technological knowledge, experience and budget to start working with AI. And that certainly opens up options.”
Stijn Viane: “There is no innovation without inspiration”
The inspiration session is a part of the third edition of Take the Lead, an initiative from Vlerick and De Tijd/L’Echo, powered by Barco and Microsoft. The programme consists of a twelve-week interactive online learning journey split into various modules. Leadership in the digital era, and new technologies such as IoT, AI and blockchain are all covered. In addition to the online learning modules, executive education students take part in a number of live sessions such as the inspiration session on 28 May. Of course, it’s about getting fresh ideas, but the day is also designed to promote networking and an exchange of knowledge with like-minded professionals.
Vlerick Professor of Digital Transformation Stijn Viane gave the introductory talk in typically enthusiastic style. He emphasised that artificial intelligence is not something for the distant future, but is already available now. However, he does suggest that for the current AI technologies, we should replace the term artificial intelligence with augmented intelligence. This is because the main goal of these technologies is to enhance human intelligence, so we can now complete the tasks we used to carry out without digital aids more cheaply, more rapidly and better.
To conclude, Professor Viane advised students to ask three questions when studying each use case – three questions which you should in fact always ask of any new technology:
- How does the technology work exactly? What underpins it?
- In what conditions and circumstances is the new technology workable?
- And what advantages does the technology offer in the use cases?
In this way, you build a bridge between these new technologies and your own way of doing business.
“AI is happening now”
Kenneth Bornauw, COO of Microsoft Belux, gave attendees an insight into Microsoft’s operations in the Benelux. For example, we found out that there are 400 people on their payroll, that they are in partnership with 4000 resellers, and that their rising turnover will reach a billion euros in the near future.
Another interesting figure: some 85% of all businesses in the Benelux will be working with AI in one way or another by 2020. This only serves to emphasise the point that AI is happening now.
And how does Microsoft view digital transformation? According to Kenneth Bonrauw, it is all about data and intelligence. These can strengthen your business in four ways:
- By transforming your product or services;
- By interacting with your customers differently or better;
- By optimising your business processes;
- By strengthening your own employees.
Piet Vandenheede, Director of Global Training at Barco and Barco University, rounded off the introductory talks. He explained that their demo is less centred around the core of artificial intelligence, and more around lifelong learning and the role played by virtual and hybrid classrooms in this.
Barco: Technology in education and corporate training
Amongst the general public, Barco is chiefly known for its projectors and display technology. Few people are aware that Barco also develops software and technologies for working together more effectively. For example, Barco was asked by an international educational institution to develop a Virtual Classroom—a high-tech, digital learning environment that offers the same degree of interaction as a physical classroom. Moreover, this is a solution that runs on weConnect, a cloud-based SaaS.
What we were shown was pretty impressive. It was familiar, but at the same time futuristic. Imagine a space of around 30 square metres with a teacher in the middle delivering a lesson. Behind the teacher there is a presentation screen and an electronic whiteboard, and in front is a curved wall with ten large screens. Each screen displays the faces of six students. They are following the lesson from behind their computer screens while the teacher can look at them directly, address them and enter into discussion with them – as if they were sitting in his or her living room.
From their end, the students are able to choose for themselves what they see on their screens: the teacher, the presentation screen or the whiteboard. Via a simple button, they can raise their hand and enter into discussion with the teacher and the other students. And the technology provides additional extras that a standard classroom does not offer, such as holding quick polls, organising quizzes, and measuring who is speaking at what point and for how long.
To ensure that this is a lifelike experience, nothing is left to chance. For example, on every screen there is a camera and a microphone. This allows each student to see the teacher from their own point of view, and the teacher to hear exactly where a question is coming from. The only difference with a traditional lecture hall is that all 60 students are sitting in the front row, which makes it incredibly intense for the teacher.
Would you like to experience this for yourself? www.barco.com/discoverweconnect.
Microsoft: AI for everyone
Cloud solution architect Wesley De Bolster showed us what is already possible now with AI and where it will go in the future. The key lesson for this session is that you don’t need to be a trained data scientist to work with AI. Because via Azure, amongst other programs, Microsoft already offers a considerable range of pre-built modules for cognitive services such as vision (object recognition), speech (speech recognition), language (automatic translation) and knowledge (machines that are able to understand text).
One concrete example of this is Power BI, a tool for self-service dashboarding. The technology takes data from a particular source and processes it in handy dashboards. Power BI can even analyse your data and automatically pull out key insights from it. Based on your raw data, Power BI could for example deduce key reasons why a student may or may not choose to attend a lecture. In short: it helps you to discover correlations that you had previously failed to see.
Microsoft wants to democratise AI, but also offers tools for experienced data scientists to carry out more complex tasks. Good examples of this are Siemens’ high-tech cutting machines. To perform the job accurately, the machines need to be calibrated. Previously, this required experts on site. But with the help of the AI tools, one of these experts created a machine learning model that carries out this task automatically and within 30 seconds. This is a gigantic gain in terms of both time and cost.
Microsoft also invests in AI for social, humanitarian purposes. One example is Monique, a woman with a severe visual impairment who dreamt of being able to take photos and to share them with her contacts on Facebook and Instagram. Together with Team Scheire (from the eponymous TV programme), Microsoft built an app for Monique. This app transcribes what can be seen on her screen (i.e. provides object recognition) and also contains other technologies that enable Monique to take good photos.
Microsoft: AI in action
The last session took place a floor below, in the Microsoft Technology Center. Using an animated demonstration, Nabil Cherchem and An Lenders showed us how you can combine different technologies (sensors, Office 365, Dynamics 365, Azure, HoloLens) to solve a typical user problem faster and more accurately.
To start with, Nabil dipped a sensor in a glass of water. The sensor immediately sent a moisture signal to the Azure platform, which in turn activated the water pump to pump out the excess water. The vibration level of the water pump was soon exceeding a pre-set limit – a signal that there was something wrong with the water pump. That signal was transmitted to the user, who asked a bot what the problem was. The bot interacted with the user to analyse the problem and ultimately suggested calling in a technician— not any old technician, but the most suitable one for the job based on criteria such as proximity, knowledge, etc.
Nabil played the role of the technician with great aplomb. To do this, he put on a HoloLens, a mixed reality device from Microsoft. With it he could send automatic images of what he was seeing to a remote specialist, who could assist Nabil with the repair, for example by indicating on Nabil’s image which part he needed to choose, how he had to assemble it, and so on. The HoloLens offers many other possibilities too. Working remotely, a specialist can send a 3D drawing of an engine to the technician, which the technician can then manipulate, turn, etc.
And what did the students think of the demos and the Take the Lead training pathway?
“Very interesting. The sessions once again prove the importance of data,” says Sophie Angenot of Quadata. “Ultimately, data is the fuel with which you can do these kinds of things as an organisation. That’s why it's important for businesses to be forward-looking and to plan data capture now. Then they won’t experience delays further down the line. ”Sophie Angenot thinks that the story about digital transformation in Take the Lead is ‘fantastic’. “The more people are convinced, the better. And it’s also fun to be dealing with innovative things. I also absolutely love the model with the four leadership styles.”
Kristof Hermans, a self-employed digital solutions architect, also felt that this was the most valuable thing she had learnt on the programme. “It is interesting to see how I score myself on the scale of these different types and where there is room for improvement.”
Nan Singkaew,CRM Specialist WIRE Europeat Bekaert, was most impressed by the demo with the HoloLens and the sensor. “It was good to have the opportunity to see that for real. Barco’s Virtual Classroom was also very interesting. Bekaert's people are spread out all over the globe. We have a lot of meetings and conferences, so it would definitely be worthwhile for us to see what we could do with the Virtual Classroom.” She found the online modules that she completed very interesting but pretty intensive. “If you want to do it thoroughly, you need at least two weeks per module to take everything in and explore what you could do with it in practice. But in any case, I’ve learnt a lot from it and am already looking forward to how it will all be brought together.”