Chris noessel

Image: Lim Kok Wee / Low Kian Tiong

APEX Insight: In the passenger experience industry, artificial intelligence (AI) exists in the form of customer service chatbots and other concierge-like services. But Chris Noessel and Yves Bergquist insist AI’s potential is near infinite – industry stakeholders just have to harness it.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is no longer the stuff of movies. When it comes to the airline passenger experience, it is only a matter of time until AI permeates all stages of the journey to give passengers more control over their travels and help airlines perform their tasks more efficiently. And, at some point, we won’t even realize it’s there. “Once we have it, it just seems like technology,” said Chris Noessel, global design practice manager, Travel and Transportation, IBM.

During his Education Day session at APEX EXPO, Noessel explained how AI can elevate the passenger experience. Google’s self-driving car, the Get Narrative camera and the Roomba robot vacuum are all forms of narrow AI, and what Noessel calls “agentive technology,” a term for technology that is given agency to perform one task, and once it accomplishes it, searches for the next opportunity to repeat it.


Image: Lim Kok Wee / Low Kian Tiong

But there’s a bigger picture. Yves Bergquist, project director, Data and Analytics, Entertainment Technology Center at the University of Southern California, suggests that AI’s potential becomes near infinite once we move beyond isolated tasks. “Narrow AI is a set of logarithms and a cognitive architecture that performs at human level – if not higher – in a very, very narrow set of tasks … A self-driving car can drive a car as well – if not better – than a human, but you can’t apply this cognitive framework to trading stock or doing other things,” he explained at his Education Day session. General artificial intelligence, however, can be applied to a wide array of tasks, and “generalized” in all contexts. “This is where it gets cool and important for you guys,” Bergquist told a room filled with airline execs, aviation journalists and AvGeeks.

Currently, in the passenger experience, AI is used to push flight updates and gate change notifications to passengers’ mobile devices. But Noessel doesn’t think it should stop there. “Why doesn’t it ride with me from the moment I buy my ticket to the moment I return home?” he asked. “Can it go with me on my vacation? Help me capture that experience? And on my flight home, create the memory book that I end up sharing with my friends and family? That’d be an interesting agent.”

“Think about a world where most operational processes can be outsourced to AI that can do it way better than humans.” — Yves Bergquist, University of Southern California

Bergquist said that AI could streamline the passenger experience, especially where airlines dedicate human, financial and operational resources to keep the cog turning. “Think about a world where most operational processes can be outsourced to AI that can do it way better than humans,” he said. “That’s the biggest promise of AI – to free us from the tyranny of dedicating so many operational resources towards making sure things run.”

According to Noessel, the question airlines should be asking themselves is, “‘How can I get my customer what they want with zero effort?’ The new model is not [to offer] a tool, but a valet.” And with round-the-clock concierge-like attention to customer service integration, like KLM and Icelandair‘s Facebook Messenger bots, it seems AI is already part of the chat.