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Hey, everybody! When I talk with people about being an AI reporter, one of the topics that tends to come up is the issue of evaluating companies that claim to be working with AI in some capacity. It can be hard to evaluate how different companies compare, especially with new startups cropping up on a weekly, if not daily, basis.

To help with my own workload, I’ve developed a three-point test, which I apply to every company that lands in my inbox. To pass, companies need to have these three elements: AI experts on staff; experts in the field that they’re focusing on; and a unique dataset. An early-stage company that is weak in one of those areas may still turn into a remarkable business, but I’d want to see some level of self-awareness about either bringing in the needed expertise or data.

Here’s the reasoning behind my criteria. Experienced staff is necessary because building an AI system is hard and requires specialized skills, which calls for people who have past work in the field. Depending on how sophisticated and novel a company’s application of AI is, they’ll need varying degrees of expertise in that field. If you’re trying to build a machine learning system using techniques nobody else has, the people building that system better be at the top of their game.

Subject matter experts, meanwhile, are needed to make sure that the AI application being built is solving the right problems. People don’t go out and buy two quarts of AI. They buy a product to solve a problem, so the application of artificial intelligence should create results that outperform predecessors and fit into customers’ existing workflows. People who understand the market that a product will enter are critical to getting that piece right.


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The creation or collection of a unique dataset is all about ensuring that a product is defensible. If it’s possible for a team at Google, Salesforce, Microsoft, or Amazon to come along and replicate or exceed a company’s results without much effort, that’s bad news. Businesses should be working to acquire and protect unique information that can then be used to build better AI systems.

If a company only meets two of these three criteria in the long run, they’re open to attack by a better prepared competitor. Businesses without sufficient AI expertise will have a hard time developing the intelligent applications they need. Those without relevant subject matter experts will have to learn what their customers need in order to apply AI to it. And without the right data, the systems won’t provide the best insights that they could.

For AI coverage, send news tips to Blair Hanley Frank and Khari Johnson, and guest post submissions to Cosette Jarrett — and be sure to bookmark our AI Channel.

Thanks for reading,

Blair Hanley Frank

AI Staff Writer

P.S. Please enjoy this video:


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