All in the mind? Artificial Intelligence in travel

Yes, the death of travel agents at the hands of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been greatly exaggerated yet again.

NB: This is an analysis from Larry Smith, partner, Thematix.

For those who know HAL from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, ever since the film was released in 1968 AI has been a thing of the future. But thanks to graphics processing units (GPUs), big data, and better algorithms, AI is now everywhere, today.

Almost 50 years after the movie, at the TravelFest Travel 2.0 event in New York City, I had the pleasure of moderating the “Artificial Intelligence in Travel” panel that included Kunal Kapoor from the IBM Watson ecosystem group, Gillian Morris, CEO of Hitlist, and Michael Becker, CEO of GeoSure.

All three panelist shared their AI knowledge and applied usage as value add, not replacement. They are using AI now,  mostly behind the app screens helping to make complex operations look simple.

Michael Becker from GeoSure explained how big data, reasoning systems, statistical algorithms, and machine learning – core components of AI – enable his app to produce a “threat temperature” across six categories for virtually every large city in the world.

For planning and in the trip, you can be smarter about overall security, danger of physical harm, theft, basic freedoms, disease & medical, and women’s safety.

Gillian Morris from Hitlist wants you to travel more, since her AI crunches big data to give you the best price, time and places to travel and adds the social graph so you know what friends live at the destination or have been there already.

This is the type of knowledge and real time advice that even the best travel agent can’t supply, given how much manual time would be involved.

IBM Watson is IBM’s dedicated unit exploring the potential of Watson, its cognitive computer system. Watson famously competed on US TV quiz show Jeopardy, beating two champions while struggling to live down its highest-profile incorrect answer, suggesting that Toronto is in the US.

Kunal Kapoor from IBM Watson explained how learning and natural language processing is highly complex and difficult for a computer so it gives the best answer based on the probability of it being correct.

In the here and now, WayBlazer was held up as a disruptive example of how AI can redefine travel service expectations by helping consumers personalize travel discovery and purchase with personalized and contextual insights.

Many in the industry, such as destination marketing organizations, travel services suppliers, and anyone with e-commerce operations, will benefit by being visible at the right time as the traveler interacts using their custom profile.

Artificial Intelligence computer systems are able to perform some tasks that normally require human intelligence and are being put to use all around us. These uses give us better answers about destinations, more insights about prices, and personalized recommendations when we want and need it.

As HAL said: “I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.”

Have an intelligent trip.

NB: This is an analysis from Larry Smith, partner, Thematix.

NB2: Image by Shutterstock

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About the Writer :: Viewpoints

A founding principle of tnooz was a diversity of viewpoints from across the spectrum. Viewpoints are articles by guest contributors from around the travel and hospitality industries. The views expressed are the views and opinions of the author and do not reflect or represent the views of his employer, tnooz, its writers, or partners.



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  1. Marie

    I was also at this event and found the panel really interesting. It’s nice to see so many new apps and tools available to help guide trip research, but, it can also feel overwhelming. I’ll be interested to see how larger tour operators incorporate aspects of AI into their businesses going forward.


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