AI Business secured an exclusive interview with Alison Vincent, PhD, Chief Technology Officer at Cisco at the IoT World Forum, to talk about how they were currently involved in the AI-space and how the new technology might change businesses moving forward.

Alison Vincent, PhD, is a senior technical executive with over 25 years experience in international leadership of software projects with strong operational skills. Over the years she’s demonstrated an ability to drive, lead and manage change across global organisations.

As well as being the Chief Technology Officer at Cisco, she’s also an Ambassador for Women In Science and Engineering (WISE) and Science Technology Engineering and Maths (STEMnet) ensuring that there’s a constant influx of young technical talent in today’s workforce.

Cisco’s AI Strategy

We started off our conversation with Alison by asking her to detail how Cisco was currently involved in the AI-space. “Cisco has something called the Technical Radar, which is our internal methodology for scanning the horizon in terms of changes within the business world and technical world, and working out which of those areas we’ll look at,” she began.

“That then will influence the way we innovate. So we’ll either build, or buy something, or partner with someone, or invent, or co-create. Artificial intelligence appeared on that radar maybe three of four years ago. As a topic, it’s certainly been something that we’ve been getting the research teams to look at and keep an eye on.” she detailed.

“But more recently, Cisco’s just made a statement to acquire MindMeld, so that’s certainly a very dramatic reinforcement of  the importance of AI [to Cisco]. We’ve taken it in terms of theoretical use, we’re now acctually seeing practical areas where we feel that will add benefit to our products and our customers,” Alison told AI Business.

Protecting our Online Security

We then asked Alison to detail how Cisco’s recently announced IoT Threat Defense will acctually be able to protect people’s security. “An area where we have been using artificial intelligence, machine learning, through our product called Stealthwatch, we look at the network traffic, and assess whether it’s malicious or not, or is there some usual activity, is this normal behaviour. We then use our internal Threat Defense model to react to that.” highlighted Alison.

The conversation moved on to the areas of Alison’s role at CTO that she finds the most exciting. “For me it’s the variety,” she replied, “and the fact that one day I could be talking to governments in terms of digital railways, and the next minute talking to a very small start-up and discussing their new ideas and analytics in terms of visual recognition with shoes. It offers fantastic variety.”

She continued, “But the most exciting thing is, more and more conversations now, not necessarily about the technology, it’s more about how do we use it. What difference it is going to mean to me as a business? How can I make use of this fantastic idea to really change something, either by employee experience, by customer experience, and the way I change my business processes in my organisation using the technology? So it’s quite interesting. It’s moved from a technology specific conversation to a more of an, ‘OK, how do I use it to make a difference to me?’.”

How can AI create less mundane jobs?

With there being so much negative press around the implications that AI might have on certain professions, we asked Alison to highlight the more positive aspects of Artificial Intelligence in business. “Cisco is a strong believer, as am I, in the benefits that technology can bring to people. And I have a real strong belief that Artificial Intelligence will work in combination with people ultimately make their job more interesting,” expressed Alison.

“So the mundane, anything that’s mundane, can be automated, and acctually you’ll end up being a lot more creative, the ability to bring out your human traits in your role rather than just doing the mundane,” she finished.

The UK’s wealth of AI talent

With Cisco’s recent acquisition of US-based AI start-up MindMeld, we wanted to know whether a company like Cisco saw the UK as a hotbed for AI talent which is deploying these new technologies in innovative ways. “Yes,” Alison answered emphatically. “So for me, I’ve been more exposed to that area. Yes, I think the UK has a growing series of expertise in that space,” she expressed.

“I was on a panel at the launch of Level 38 [UCL’s new state-of-the-art teaching and research facilities], with Azeem Azhar [curator of The Exponential View]. Through my connections with him, he introduced me to the potential of what there is in the UK, and it’s really quite exciting in terms of the opportunities,” she finished.

AI providing better customer service

With more and more companies looking into adopting Artificial Intelligence, we asked Alison to highlight the areas of business that she felt were experiencing the biggest growth in terms of the adoption of AI. “We’re personally looking at it in terms of security, and also our collaboration software, and trying to get our conversational bots working,” she noted.

“The use of bots to improve customer service. I feel that’s quite an obvious early win. I think Artificial Intelligence is really proving its worth in terms of being able to provide a better customer service, and quicker customer service, and probably cheaper customer service, and handing it onto the human to do the more complex stuff,” she concluded.

Cisco and the future of AI

We finished off our conversation with Alison by asking her to gaze into her crystal ball and predict where Cisco will be in five years’ time in relation to the adoption of AI. “Because it’s been on our technical radar, because we’ve already made an example of an acquisition, I think it’s going to be built into a lot of our technology,” Alison started.

“But also I think internally, Cisco ourselves, we’ll be using it to improve our own internal processes, in terms of how we respond to someone putting a quote on Twitter, and helping us to think about what that person wants to purchase, or what kind of problems are they solving, and helping us speed the definition of what they are looking for using Artificial Intelligence,” she concluded.