AIBusiness recently interviewed one of the leading business figures in Artificial Intelligence, Simeon Preston, Group Chief Operations Officer at insurance giants AIA
Simeon will be speaking at The AI Summit in London on 5 May, where he will discuss whether putting the “AI” Into Insurance is “Hope or Hype?”, raising a number of key questions, opportunities and challenges for the insurance industry.  
AIBusiness caught up with Simeon to find out his views on AI’s impact on business overall, as well as his AI strategy for AIA specifically, looking ahead to his keynote at The AI Summit.


AIA‘s COO Simeon Preston

1. How do you believe AI will impact business overall and in what ways?

The technologies underpinning AI are myriad and rapidly evolving, but pretty much any repetitive, manual and judgment-based business process will be subject to significant disruption from AI.  To take three generic examples:

Product development: AI will help companies understand customers’ needs via smart, data-driven approaches to pattern recognition, behavioural analysis and proposition targeting.  Hard rules will give way to nuance and inference, as AI algorithms ‘learn’ from past experience – often helped by human operators until computers armed with these algorithms are fully ready to take the reins.

Back-office administration: AI will allow routine labour-intensive ‘paper-pushing’ activities to be supplanted by what I call ‘wise computing’ – automated decision-making that draws upon a broad spectrum of past human experience and judgments in making its own.  This transition will feed itself: as ever more corporate information is digitised, so AI tools will access increasingly rich and complex data sources, and learn how to parse those into meaningful insights through trial and error.

Customer service: AI-driven text mining tools will help consumers digest the complicated language often used by companies.  Web-chat tools will interact online with consumers in real time and answer their queries on needs, products and services using simple language.  Natural language processing will augment and then perhaps replace many aspects of today’s human call centre operations. Robo-advisory and smart-comparison tools will help consumers search for the most appropriate products and services.

We will see a progressive shift towards transparency and simple language as AI helps customers in all industries become better informed about their needs and choices.  Whilst the overall impact will be positive for customers and for business, the labour market implications will be profound as many routine tasks are automated using intelligent machines that apply fast-growing experience to make judgment-based (vs. strictly rules-based) business decisions – much as humans have done for millennia.


2. What do you think are the main challenges in adopting AI technologies, from machine learning through to image recognition, in business?

The fast-evolving field of AI will have profound impacts on most aspects of business.  The key question is how quickly this will happen, rather than whether it will.  The pace of change will be governed not only by corporate decisions but also by consumers’, regulators’ and politicians’ comfort with brave new ways of doing business.  But in five to ten years, and perhaps even within three, the widespread deployment of AI will mean the world functions very differently indeed.

The pace of AI’s evolution suggests that no technical hurdle will be too high to overcome with time and money.  The spiralling growth in data, compute power, storage capacity and connectivity, coupled with collapsing unit costs, are enabling AI-driven approaches unthinkable even a year ago.

Inevitably there will be mistakes, and perhaps some spectacular ones, along the way.  All humans make mistakes as they learn.  As we design computing systems to be more human-like and ‘intelligent’ in making decisions, then we must expect some to fail given that failure is part of the learning process.  This will be uncomfortable for many, and perhaps catastrophic for some.

The biggest challenge to AI’s adoption by business will be institutional rather than technical.  The people most impacted by the change will naturally resist it by whatever means at their disposal.  They will ask their bosses, unions, politicians and regulators for insulation.  The risk for large employers is that they are slow to react to smaller, younger challengers with less to lose and much to gain.  The opportunity – to accept AI as inevitable and selectively integrate it into existing business models – is enormous for organisations with the vision and determination to succeed in the new world.


3. What are your goals for your AI strategy at AIA, both in the short- and long-term?

AIA is the leading life and health insurer in Asia Pacific, serving the owners of 28m policies plus 16m members of group insurance schemes.  We were founded in Shanghai almost a hundred years ago.  We are one of the world’s largest insurers by market capitalisation, employing around 20,000 staff.  As Group COO I am responsible at Group level for technology, operations, shared services and innovation – including AI.

AIA aspires to help our customers lead longer, healthier, better lives.  AI will play an important role in our future: in analysing consumers’ changing needs; in enhancing our customers’ experience; in making our business more efficient; and perhaps even in improving our decisions.  We are alert to the emergence of AI as a set of enabling technologies, and exploring actively how to incorporate those selectively into our business for the benefit of customers, employees and shareholders.

AIA logo


4. Which other industries do you believe will be the pioneers in broadly adopting AI technologies?

AI is already having a material impact on many industries – in technology of course, but also in tech-dependent sectors such as manufacturing, healthcare and financial services.  The convergence of innovation in technology, health and finance into ‘digital health’ happening right now is especially exciting.  The face of medicine being changed forever by AI and its machine learning algorithms – e.g., image recognition is already transforming the quality and speed of diagnosis, with interpretation of X-rays much faster and more precise.


At The AI Summit, Simeon Preston will be delivering his keynote: Putting the “AI” Into Insurance: “Hope or Hype?”

The AI Summit is the world’s first event dedicated to Artificial Intelligence for the business world. For more information, and to join us on 5 May at the Four Seasons Hotel, London, visit:
AISummit print screen


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