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Artificial Intelligence is Permeating Business At Last

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The buzzing AI scene is an exception to the downbeat mood across techdom, which is in the midst of a deep slump.

Credit: Mark Long

The machines are coming for your crops—at least in a few fields in America. This autumn John Deere, a tractor-maker, shipped its first fleet of fully self-driving machines to farmers. The tilling tractors are equipped with six cameras which use artificial intelligence (ai) to recognise obstacles and manoeuvre out of the way. Julian Sanchez, who runs the firm's emerging-technology unit, estimates that about half the vehicles John Deere sells have some AI capabilities. That includes systems which use onboard cameras to detect weeds among the crops and then spray pesticides, and combine harvesters which automatically alter their own setting to waste as little grain as possible. Mr Sanchez says that for a medium-sized farm, the additional cost of buying an AI-enhanced tractor is recouped in two to three years.

For decades starry-eyed technologists have claimed that AI will upend the business world, creating enormous benefits for firms and customers. John Deere is not the only proof that this is happening at last. A survey by McKinsey, a consultancy, found that this year 50% of firms across the world had tried to use AI in some way, up from 20% in 2017. Powerful new "foundation" models are fast moving from the lab to the real world. Chatgpt, a new ai tool that has recently been released for public testing, is making waves for its ability to craft clever jokes and explain scientific concepts. But excitement is also palpable among corporate users of AI, its developers and those developers' venture-capital backers. Many of them attended a week-long jamboree hosted in Las Vegas by Amazon Web Services, the tech giant's cloud-computing arm. The event, which ended on December 2nd, was packed with talks and workshops on ai. Among the busiest booths in the exhibition hall were those of AI firms such as Dataiku and

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