The Lowdown on AI: An Interview With Placewise CTO, Wojciech Czech

Aug 22, 2023

The Lowdown on AI, And How It Could Change The Retail Real Estate Industry: An Interview With Placewise CTO, Wojciech Czech

Artificial intelligence and ChatGPT- 4 have been the topic of conversations in virtually every industry all around the world, of late. Many regulators, policy makers, scholars and technocrats alike, are calling for immediate regulation of AI.  

In an open letter  published this March and signed by some of the biggest names in technology, signatories warn of artificial intelliegence’s “profound risks to society and humanity”, and just days ago the EU passed the first set of comprehensive regulations for the artificial intelligence industry.

What happened to computers playing games with us like chess and Jeopardy? When did AI get to be….more like Hal 9000?

With so much to unpack we sat down with our CTO, Doctor Wojciech Czech, (Woj to his friends), to talk about Artificial Intelligence. No, for real. He’s a PhD in Computer Science but he’s also super modest and doesn’t like us to make a fuss.  Is AI a social collaboration tool or a scary omnipotent overlord? and how might AI change the retail real estate industry in the future? 

Let’s ease into this.  Can you give us a definition of AI that an 8 year old could understand?

Imagine if your toys could learn to play games with you, or if your drawings could come to life and tell you a story. That's a little bit like what artificial intelligence, or AI, is. It's a way that we make computers or robots learn and think, sort of like how you learn at school or figure out how to win at your favorite game. AI helps machines do things like recognize pictures, understand spoken words, play video games, or even drive cars all by themselves! It's like giving a brain to the computer to help it understand and learn from the world around it.

Hasn’t Artificial Intelligence been around for a long time?  

Yes, that's right! The concept of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been around for quite a long time. The idea of creating machines or systems that can perform tasks that usually require human intelligence, such as understanding natural language or recognizing patterns, has been a subject of interest for centuries. But it wasn't until the mid-20th century that AI started to become a formal academic discipline.

The term "Artificial Intelligence" itself was coined in 1956 at a conference at Dartmouth College in the United States. This is often considered the birth of AI as a field of study. During the following decades, researchers developed many of the foundational ideas and techniques that underlie modern AI, such as neural networks and machine learning.

Over time, AI has become more and more sophisticated, and today it is a crucial part of many technologies that we use in our everyday lives, from voice assistants like Siri or Alexa, to recommendation systems on platforms like Netflix or Amazon, and even in some self-driving cars!

So, while the concept of AI has been around for a while, the technology has evolved and improved significantly over the years, and continues to do so. At Placewise we adopted the first machine learning model for predicting Email open and Click Through Rate (CTR) in 2021. Since then Placewise MPC ML module has become a robust solution supporting customers both in planning campaigns to optimize content consumption, and also supporting decisions based on data science insights, or even in generating meaningful, attractive content.

What are some practical applications that have been using AI that we might have already encountered? 

There are many practical applications of artificial intelligence that have become integral parts of our everyday lives, whether we realize it or not. Here are a few examples:

  • Virtual Assistants: Devices like Amazon's Alexa, Google Home, and Apple's Siri use AI to understand your voice commands and provide useful information or perform tasks for you, such as setting reminders or playing music.
  • Social Media: AI is used in social media platforms to personalize your experience. For example, Facebook uses AI to recognize and tag faces in photos, while platforms like Instagram and TikTok use it to recommend content that you might like based on your past behavior.
  • Search Engines: When you search for something on Google, AI helps deliver the most relevant results. It does this by understanding your search terms and how they relate to the vast amount of information available on the internet.
  • Online Shopping: Websites like Amazon use AI for their recommendation systems, suggesting products you might like based on your browsing and shopping history.
  • Email: Services like Gmail use AI to filter out spam emails, categorize your emails into different tabs, and even suggest quick replies.
  • Navigation and Traffic: GPS apps like Google Maps or Waze use AI to analyze real-time traffic data and provide the fastest routes to your destination.
  • Healthcare: AI is increasingly being used in healthcare for tasks like reading medical images to detect diseases, predicting patient risk based on health records, and personalizing treatment plans.
  • Video Games: Many video games use AI to create challenging, dynamic, and responsive gameplay. The non-player characters or enemies in games often use AI to decide their actions.
  • Self-driving Cars: While not yet commonplace, self-driving cars are becoming more prevalent and rely heavily on AI to navigate safely.
  • Smart Home Devices: Many home devices, from thermostats that learn your preferred temperatures to security cameras that can recognize familiar faces, use AI.
  • Marketing: Generating content of messages or even interviews 🙂

What is ChatGPT 4? How does it work? and why are we hearing so much about it?

GPT-4 stands for "Generative Pre-trained Transformer 4". What does it mean?

  • "Generative" means it can create or "generate" responses or sentences.
  • "Pre-trained" means it has already learned a lot from processing huge volumes of articles, websites, and other text before you start talking with it.
  • "Transformer" is the name of the method it uses to understand and generate language.
  • And "4" just tells us it's the fourth version of this program.

In essence, ChatGPT-4 is like a very smart and helpful bot that can chat with you, answer your questions, and provide information on a huge variety of topics. GPT-4 uses a method called "transformer architecture", which allows it to understand the context of words and sentences better than some other models. It's really good at predicting what word or phrase comes next in a sentence. As GPT-4 is a larger model than its predecessors, it has more capacity to learn and understand complex patterns in language. This means it can generate more accurate, nuanced, and contextually relevant responses. GPT-4 can be used for many different tasks without needing to be retrained. Whether it's writing a poem, answering questions, or translating languages, GPT-4 can do it all with the same base model.

However, it's also important to remember that while GPT-4 is a powerful tool, it's not perfect. It doesn't truly understand language or concepts the way humans do, and it can sometimes generate incorrect or misleading information. Plus, because it learns from text on the internet, it can unintentionally replicate biases present in those texts. It also doesn't have the ability to generate information beyond its training cut-off, meaning it can't provide real-time updates or recent information.

What are some applications of AI that could potentially benefit retail real estate? What about the downside?

I think there are several interesting applications, where AI tools can bring significant benefits to retail real estate. First, predictive analysis: AI can analyze vast amounts of data to identify trends and patterns, helping property owners and developers predict which types of retail establishments are likely to succeed in specific locations. This can also be extended to predicting property values/prices and potential returns on investment. 

Another prominent application is customer behavior analysis (supported extensively in Placewise MPC). AI can be used to analyze customer behavior, like foot traffic patterns, popular shopping times, and customer preferences. This data can inform decisions about store layouts, leasing strategies, and targeted marketing campaigns. AI can be also integrated into property management systems to automate routine tasks, analyze performance data, and optimize operations. 

For example, AI can be used to optimize energy consumption, manage maintenance schedules, and enhance security. Following GPT hype, the more advanced applications chatbots and virtual assistants can be considered in retail real estate space. AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants can provide 24/7 customer service, helping answer queries about store hours, availability of products, and more. This can significantly enhance the customer experience.

AI can be used for sentiment analysis of social media posts and online reviews of malls or stores.  AI can also be used to gather insights on customer satisfaction and overall sentiment, which can be valuable information for property owners and retailers alike. 

Last but not least retail real estate can also benefit from personalized smart store experience, risk assessment, marketing content generation using Large Language Models. Definitely, the number of practical applications is growing as long as AI algorithms are moving from the research field into production deployment. 

As to the downside, I would primarily say the  jobs displacement risks. As AI systems become more capable, they might replace certain jobs, especially those that involve routine, repetitive tasks. Also AI-specific security risks should be considered, e.g., adversarial attacks that trick AI systems into behaving incorrectly.

Why do you think there is so much concern about AI suddenly? Or does it just feel like it’s sudden? Is it justified in your opinion?

I think we are observing a combination of concerns caused by two different factors:

  • Longstanding general questions about AI as it relates to ethics, security, and social effects.
  • Concerns raised by businesses at risk.

The first group of questions is definitely justified and this is reflecting the complex debate about the consequences of scientific and technical progress. On the other side, the businesses which are not investing into AI innovations and are behind competitors or governments feel that they can lose a part of their stake, therefore we observe a growing trend of issuing warnings about AI, blaming AI, regulatory attempts to block development of AI, etc. It is difficult to assess to what extent this is true concern, and to what extent the concern is related to attempts to block emerging players on the market or new competitors.

In 2018 the Pew Research Institute asked almost 1000 “experts” the following question: (we’re paraphrasing) By 2023 do you think most people will be better off than they are today because of advances in artificial intelligence? Or will people be worse off than they are today? What do you think?

I would rather say they will be better off: more productive, less overwhelmed with routine tasks, freeing up time for more complex and creative tasks or for self-development. AI can help break down language barriers with real-time translation services, enabling people from different regions and cultures to communicate effectively. I think it can also boost human creativity, helping people create art, music, and literature in new and exciting ways.

Well there you have it from Doctor Czech.  

Stay tuned for even more solutions that make AI work for retail and entertainment destinations around the world from Placewise.

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The Lowdown on AI: An Interview With Placewise CTO, Wojciech Czech