Travel tech experts parse AI’s hype against its best uses

Travel tech experts parse AI’s hype against its best uses

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As Travelport’s chief product and technology officer, Thomas Kershaw’s patience runs a little thin when he hears people talk about ChatGPT and its brethren as if artificial intelligence is something new to the travel world.

He likes to remind people autopilot, which he sees as a distant relation to the newer tools, has been assisting airline pilots for decades. Autopilot is also a better analogy for what he sees as AI’s ultimate relationship with humanity: more of a partner than the source of doom Hollywood is quick to imagine.

“This whole hype around one has to beat the other, that’s The Terminator too many times,” he said. “There are too many death battles in this conversation. I think the two technologies are symbiotic and will work together.”

Kershaw made his point on Center Stage at The Phocuswright Conference during a panel discussion that sought to contrast the technology’s promise from its practice.

As it’s used now, artificial intelligence is still near the bottom of experts’ evolutionary ladder for technology that can match or surpass human-level intelligence, said moderator Norm Rose, the senior technology and corporate market analyst at Phocuswright.

“There’s so much hype around AI, [yet] we’re not into an AI system that actually thinks,” he said. “This is still code.”

The hype can also lead companies to waste resources chasing dreams before they have a practical application, said Christian Spannbauer, the chief technology officer for Lufthansa Group’s Digital Hangar.

“You can do a lot, but it also comes with costs,” Spannbauer said. “Those models are really taking time and effort to train on. You should be very cautious about return on investment.”

And yet, the panelists agreed, the complexity of content and appetite for data analysis is driving a need for some type of machine assistant.

While AI has been useful in the segmentation of travelers with similar attributes, the pursuit of personalization is a natural progression in AI’s assistance with data, said Sanjay Mohan, group chief technology officer at MakeMyTrip, which since May has been using OpenAI’s generative AI technology to enhance the booking process.

“It’s the relevance,” he said. “The more you understand the customer preferences and the offerings that you give to that customer, that will be more relevant. And therefore, the chance that the offering will be looked at and bought will be much higher.”

When the panelists were asked for advice on how others might apply AI to their business, Kershaw made the last word a cautionary note by speaking to the privacy concerns around AI and personal data.

“There’s lots of cool things we could do, but AI is very thirsty for data. It drinks a lot,” he said. “We want to make sure the data that gets consumed by it is consumed in a protected format because we are dealing with sensitive information. We’re not selling shoes. I won’t tell what your shoe size is. We’ve got passport information, all kinds of data, so we have a fiduciary responsibility to protect that information.”

Watch the video below to see their full discussion.

AI Exploits and Explanations with Travelport, MakeMyTrip & Lufthansa – The Phocuswright Conference

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