My colleague Julie Knight, writer and content strategist for Oracle HR communications, sat down with Alex San Juan, vice president at Oracle Finance Systems, for a fun and in-depth interview about artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), robots, science fiction, and projects under way at Oracle to build next-generation solutions. This interview may trigger you to want to watch Star Wars…again! Grab a bag of popcorn and enjoy!
Julie: When we hear about robotics, AI, and machine learning, many of us think of Star Wars’ C-3PO, R2-D2, and BB-8. But self-aware robots are no longer science fiction. From Tesla’s fully automated, self-driving cars to our self-driving autonomous database, the future is here. Today, the once fantastical notion of robotics, AI, and machine learning are becoming commonplace. Let’ start with a popular question: What are the differences between AI, machine learning, and robotics?
Alex: AI refers to the broader concept of machines being able to carry out tasks in a way that we would consider “smart.” AI machines are programmed to think, work, and react like a human might, applying logic to connect two or more seemingly unrelated details.
Some people think AI and machine learning are synonymous, but they aren’t. Machine learning is one way of achieving AI, based on the idea that we should be able to give machines access to data and let them learn for themselves. Machine learning refers to the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed, based on your interaction with your computer. If you always go into your general ledger system on the last day of the month for a few months, it will take you to the general ledger on the last day of the next month, anticipating that’s where you want to go based on your interaction history.
From self-driving cars to self-aware firewalls that identify hackers before they can breach your network, the most advanced AI systems use machine learning algorithms to analyze current conditions and learn from experience, getting progressively smarter over time.
These innovations rely on analytics to discover patterns in immense volumes of data to come up with insights once only achievable by highly trained data scientists.
A robot is a machine that does work by itself, following a set of rules programmed by a user. A robot copies the same sequence of steps that a human does. The robot then executes these tasks faster and without human error, and it never gets tired or sick. Artificial intelligence and machine learning can power robots to complete tasks.
The way robotics is used today at Oracle is through robotics applications processing. A great example of this is how Oracle Autonomous Database used AI and machine learning to become the world’s first self-driving, self-securing, and self-repairing autonomous database.
Julie: How do you see robots and people working together in your line of business?
Alex: In the office of finance, we think about AI and machine learning as tools to help us automate smarter, work smarter, and optimize smarter. By automate smarter, I mean relieving employees from having to do repetitive tasks that quite frankly are often subject to human error, thereby increasing productivity and reducing risk.
Emerging technologies free people from the mundane so their time can be better spent on more important things, such as working with customers, solving problems, and creating innovative solutions and other things that humans are better at and enjoy doing much more. By automating repetitive data input, we free up people to do more analytical work that ultimately leads to better decision-making.
These emerging technologies help Oracle and our customers work smarter, to improve decision-making and deliver better business outcomes with better data insights. You will always need people to drive business decisions, think creatively, show empathy, and build strong human connections and relationships. We are trying to look at data in ways we never saw before so people can concentrate on higher valued tasks.
Finally, we use emerging technologies to optimize smarter, improving working capital, enhancing supplier relationships, and increasing business agility. These are areas that all our customers are focused on to address business model disruption, geopolitical and climate risks, and other economic uncertainties.
Julie: Can you tell us about any cool Oracle machine learning projects in development?
Alex: One exciting project in the area of automating smarter is how we will autocorrect errors in accounting ledger reconciliations. For example, one common mistake is that a person will select the wrong cost center. Right now, if that happens, that person would receive a notification and have to go in and manually fix the mistake or process a manual journal entry. In the future, thanks to machine learning, mistakes like this will be automatically corrected without the need for any human interaction. That’s a big time saver and goes beyond just identifying errors, but also correcting them.
Julie: Any AI projects in development that you are excited about?
Alex: Yes. We are looking at what employees are searching for when they make hardware purchases. We know if employees can’t find what they are looking for, they will buy it outside of the procurement process and expense it, which is usually more expensive for the company. We’re using AI to identify what equipment people are searching for, so we can make sure these things are easy to find in our catalog. This is a great example of how we are using AI to work smarter.
In the area of optimizing smarter, we are looking at how quickly we pay our vendors. Often, companies offer discounts to customers for early payment. So they get paid in just a day or two instead of having to wait 30 or 60 days. Our Adaptive Intelligent Apps software automatically monitors supplier invoices and flags those that offer discounts for early payment, alerting finance teams on how to prioritize payments and freeing up working capital. We call this Intelligent Payment discount and it’s just one example of how we use artificial intelligence. The software also helps us find the best freight values, for example.
AI can also identify what may be questionable employee expenses—and flag those for manager review. We’re moving to mobile expenses, where you would be able to do your expenses without having to go into the application at all. You could use your phone to take a photo of the receipt, and it would automatically load into an application that automatically fills out your expense report. Once you have reviewed it and verified that it’s correct, the application would send it to your manager for review and approval. Once approved, it's reviewed by the expense folks for any audit violations. They have a set of rules to make sure your expenses are in compliance. If there are no issues, it goes to payment.
We’re piloting this technology right now in certain areas.
When you think of Star Wars, Han Solo and Luke Skywalker wouldn’t have gotten far without advanced technology and their robots. But it was their passion for doing the right thing, combined with their sometimes illogical thinking and human grit, that helped them rescue Princess Leia and restore freedom and justice to the galaxy.
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Author: Alex SanJuan, vice president, Oracle Finance Systems, is one of many Oracle visionaries exploring emerging technologies for our company. He leads a team of 15 employees in charge of making recommendations for emerging technologies for Oracle’s Global Finance and Accounting Organization.