Sean Cusack, software engineer at Microsoft and beekeeper next door, wanted to know if anything other than bees was getting into his hives. So he build a small photo booth (a kind of vestibule of the bees) who took pictures whenever something appeared around her. But sorting through thousands of insect portraits proved tedious.
Colleagues told him about a new product the company was working on, called Lobe.ai, which allows anyone to train a computer vision system to recognize objects. Cusack used it to identify his bees – but also to keep an eye out for the dreaded murder hornet.
“It was really, really simple,” Cusack said, adding that the underlying data science was “over my head,” despite its title.
The Lobe platform allowed him to drag and drop sample photos and click a few buttons to create a system that could recognize his beloved bees and spot unwanted visitors.
Cusack is part of a growing army of “citizen developers,” who are using new products that allow anyone to apply artificial intelligence without having to write a line of computer code. Proponents of the “no-code” AI revolution believe it will change the world. It used to take a team of engineers to create software, and now users with a web browser and an idea have the power to bring that idea to life themselves.
“We’re trying to take AI and make it ridiculously easy,” said Craig Wisneski, a no-code evangelist and co-founder of Akkio, a startup which allows anyone to make predictions using data.
The AI follows a familiar progression.
“First of all, it’s used by a small core of scientists,” said Jonathan Reilly, Akkio’s other co-founder. “Then the user base expands to engineers who can navigate the technical nuances and jargon until eventually it’s user-friendly enough that almost anyone can use it.”
Just as clickable icons have replaced obscure programming commands on personal computers, new no-code platforms are replacing programming languages with simple, familiar web interfaces. And a surge of startups is bringing the power of AI to non-technical people in visuals, text, and audio.
Jujifor example, is a tool designed to make AI construction chatbots as easy as creating a PowerPoint presentation. It uses machine learning to automatically manage complex conversation flows and infer particular user characteristics to personalize each engagement rather than just serving pre-programmed interactions.
Its co-founder, Michelle Zhou, said the goal is to give Juji chatbots advanced human skills such as emotional intelligence so they can connect with users on a more human level than existing systems. Thanks to Juji, staff members at the University of Illinois were able to create and manage their personalized AI chatbot and scale their student recruitment operations.
But not all existing tools are robust enough to do more than simple tasks. from google Teachable machines is a computer vision tool similar to Lobe.ai. Steve Salinga former landscape architect who now lives with ALS, worked with the team at Teachable Machines for about a year and a half to train a system to turn light switches on and off using his facial expressions.
“It gets more accurate with more data,” Saling said in an email.
But he said the process of collecting that data – images of his face from different angles and in different lights – was laborious and the system never reached the level of accuracy required.
“Automation has to be over 99% reliable to depend on it,” Saling said. “Teachable Machines will get there, but it’s not there yet.”
However, this is only the beginning. “No-code AI tools are still on the fringes of the broader no-code movement because few people understand machine learning well enough to imagine what’s possible,” said Josh Tiernan, who leads Founders Without Codea community of non-technical entrepreneurs who use no-code tools such as WordPress or Bubble.
But he expects no-code AI to grow as more people understand its potential.
Another force in favor of no-code: advances in AI itself are making no-code platforms more powerful. Open AI, the company co-founded by Elon Musk, has an extensive AI system, GPT-3, which can write code when prompted with plain English. It can even create websites and perform other basic programming tasks. OpenAI used the system to create GitHub co-pilota tool that acts as an auto-complete function for coders, speeding up their work. DeepMinda subsidiary of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, has gone a step further with an AI tool that can write complete code to solve complex problems it faces with normal speech or text.
Already, users of Microsoft’s Power Platformwhich includes a family of no-code products, can generate simple applications simply by describing them.
“I could say something like, ‘Look up all customer records from the last year,’ and it will automatically do that for you,” said Charles Lamanna, vice president of business applications and platforms at Microsoft.
He estimates that half of all office work could be automated with AI if there were enough developers to do the work.
“The only way to do that is to empower everyone to be a codeless developer,” Lamanna said.
from google Application sheet, for example, is an open platform where people can connect data and, with a single click, create applications that can be opened on a smartphone, tablet or computer. It uses AI to understand user intent and allows them to build mobile and desktop apps with built-in computer vision and predictive analytics features. It costs nothing to create apps for personal use.
“We are focused on making this consumable by everyday people,” said Praveen Seshadri, co-founder and CEO of AppSheet. There are many organizations around the world that have teams of people who need to coordinate schedules and tasks, he added. Each is unique and more suited to creating a custom application than using something off the shelf.
For example, he cited New incentives, an organization that gives small amounts of money to mothers in some of the poorest areas of Nigeria to encourage them to have their children vaccinated. To track this data, they created an app with AppSheet that their employees now use in the field.
Alex Denning, running Ellipse, a small business marketing firm that uses WordPress, turned to Akkio to build an artificial intelligence system that could predict which keyword and title would get their clients’ blog posts the most exposure on Google and other search engines. He dragged and dropped onto Akkio’s site a spreadsheet of past keywords and blog post titles along with the number of clicks those posts got on Google. After a few keystrokes, Akkio created an AI to do the job.
“Results for our clients have improved by about a third through the use of Akkio and AI,” Denning said. Once an AI system is created on Akkio, users can integrate it with their existing software. Denning renamed the tool Falcon and uses it to market his business.
“I’m not a developer,” he said, “but it was easy and intuitive for me to pull it off.”
What about Cusack, the bee guy? Its AI system never spotted a murder hornet, but it did catch plenty of wasps and earwigs sneaking into its hives — a small but important step for non-code.