Markets and Trends

Calling a Spade a Spade: Artificial Intelligence Terminology Discrepancies

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As the market for intelligent applications and the software platforms used to build them has emerged, nomenclature confusion has grown. What should we call these applications, and what should we call the platforms, libraries and software tools used to build them?

The terminology matters. Vendors need to differentiate their products from the business intelligence and predictive analytics software that has existed for decades. ‘Intelligent applications’ and ‘business intelligence’ software provide two very different sets of functionality. For technology buyers who need to justify new solutions to budget holders, the terminology matters too.

How Can Vendors Differentiate Their Products?

We could use the name of the types of algorithms to describe the platforms; i.e. neural networks (also known as deep learning) or machine learning (both supervised and unsupervised) as these are some of the key ingredients to building these intelligent applications.  We could use the generic terminology in the field for this type of application: artificial intelligence. A third option is to use the phrase coined by IBM researchers when they were working on Watson for the Jeopardy challenge: cognitive computing.

Yet another option is that we could invent our own terminology. Shivon Zillis, a partner at Bloomberg Beta who monitors the market for these kinds of technologies, coined the phrase “machine intelligence.” One company, InsideSales, coined the term “Neuralytics” to describe their machine learning platform. Another company, Tata Consultancy Services coined the “neural automation”, while Microsoft discusses its Office Graph technology as an “intelligent fabric.”

One way to look at this is to see what phrases companies are using on their websites and in their advertising. One thing is clear – no one vendor ‘owns’ any of the currently preferred terminology.

Vendors are Confusing Tech Buyers with Descrepancies

By our count, eight companies are using some variation of cognitive (i.e. computing/agent/reasoning) in their messaging. Four companies are using “artificial intelligence” and two companies are using Zillis’s “machine intelligence.”

Secondarily, many of these companies also discuss the use of machine learning in conjunction with their preferred catch phrase. However, the use of this phrase is additive, not a replacement for the phrase that vendors have chosen. As technology analysts at IDC, we have also adopted this approach, whereby machine learning is one key software component of what we refer to as the Cognitive Software Platform. There are several other components that align with functional characteristics of IDC’s definition of cognitive software platforms. We feel that machine learning is too narrow of a technology category, while AI and Deep Learning were too broad – at least in our domain of technology market research.

As the Market Grows, so Could Phrase Confusion

This area of software is very hot right now and is likely to get hotter in the future. IDC forecasts the 5-year CAGR for cognitive software platforms approaching 35%. Despite phrase confusion, companies are looking at these platforms, kicking the tires and doing pilots. Vendors will need to better name their solutions to alleviate buyer confusion. In the meantime, if you’re in the market for software platforms for building intelligent applications or adding intelligence to your existing applications, remember to search for all of these phrases when doing your research!

Want to learn more about the artificial intelligence market? Find out more with IDC’s FutureScape: Worldwide Analytics, Cognitive/AI, and Big Data 2017 Predictions.

International Data Corporation (IDC) is the premier global provider of market intelligence, advisory services, and events for the information technology, telecommunications, and consumer technology markets. With more than 1,200 analysts worldwide, IDC offers global, regional, and local expertise on technology and industry opportunities and trends in over 110 countries. IDC's analysis and insight helps IT professionals, business executives, and the investment community to make fact-based technology decisions and to achieve their key business objectives.