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How much does artificial intelligence cost? Well, it depends

anastasiia profile image Anastasiia Bernatska Originally published at itrexgroup.com ・11 min read

How much does it cost to create a custom artificial intelligence system? The honest answer would be “it depends”, as the price of developing, implementing, and maintaining custom artificial intelligence systems is driven by a number of factors and can only be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. In this article, however, we’ll figure out what these factors are and provide ballpark estimates of several AI-based solutions from our portfolio. Additionally, we’ll give you several tips on how to approach your first artificial intelligence project and get the most value out of your AI investments.

These are the top 5 factors behind AI cost

1. The type of software you’re eyeing to build. Artificial intelligence is an umbrella term that refers to any device or application that makes decisions based on the information it consumes, thus mimicking human intelligence. Voice assistants that understand questions uttered in natural language, security cameras recognizing people in live video footage, and expert systems that spot cancerous tumors in CT scans can all be described as artificial intelligence. However, their complexity, performance requirements, and, subsequently, costs vary greatly

2. The level of intelligence you’re aiming for. When talking about AI, people tend to envision Boston Dynamics robots and holographic avatars from Blade Runner 2049. In reality, most business AI solutions can be described as narrow artificial intelligence, meaning they’re only programmed to perform a particular task — for example, recognize text in PDF files and convert them into editable documents. To classify as truly intelligent, AI algorithms should be able to uncover patterns in data with little to no human intervention, assess the probability or improbability of an event, justify their assumptions, continuously process new data, and learn from it.

3. The amount and quality of data you’re going to feed your system. Artificial intelligence is only as good as the data it’s been trained on, and the more data algorithms consume, the better they get.

AI can ingest both structured data, which is properly organized and stored in relational database management systems (RDBMs), and unstructured data like emails, images, and videos, which is typically bulk-uploaded to data lakes.

As far as AI cost is concerned, it is cheaper to work with structured data — especially if there is a substantial quantity of information to boost your algorithms’ accuracy. With unstructured data, AI experts have to go the extra mile to organize and label it, while software engineers need to set up the complete infrastructure ensuring continuous data flow between the components of your system. In some cases, such as training AI-powered medical imaging solutions, data can be hard to obtain due to privacy or security reasons.

To overcome this hurdle, AI engineers may artificially expand the size of a limited dataset or reuse existing classification algorithms. Operations like these are bound to eventually increase the cost of building an AI program.

4. The algorithm accuracy you’re hoping to achieve. The accuracy of your AI solution and its predictions depends directly on the type of application and the requirements you impose on it. A customer support chatbot, for example, is only expected to handle up to 60% of routine user queries; for complex issues, there’s always a human specialist waiting on the other end of the line. A pilotless delivery drone that transports blood and human organs, on the other hand, should be able to maneuver around objects with immaculate precision. Higher accuracy and reliability of artificial intelligence predictions directly affect your project’s lifespan and increases AI development cost. Also, it should be noted that AI algorithms will continue to absorb new data as they work alongside human specialists, which may carry additional training and maintenance expenses.

5. The complexity of an AI solution you’re working on. Artificial intelligence is the brain of a technology system that pushes data in and out of your business app and presents insights to users — including those who don’t have a technical background. When we discuss the cost of artificial intelligence, we should be talking about the price of creating proper software, with a cloud-driven back end, ETL/streaming tools, APIs supporting integration with internal and external systems, and some kind of interface, be it a cloud dashboard, mobile app, or voice assistant. Lightweight AI, like the customer support chatbots mentioned in the previous section, may live inside a corporate messenger and does not require a complex infrastructure to function. AI-powered data ecosystems providing a 360-degree view into your company’s operations are a whole different story. Additional AI implementation challenges will arise when you start scaling your intelligent system from one or several use cases (think predicting customer churn rate or analyzing sales data in a particular brick-and-mortar store) to a company-wide deployment. In fact, that’s the reason why only 53% of enterprise AI projects make it from prototypes to production.

Speaking of failures, it should be noted that only a tiny fraction of AI projects (Gartner believes it’s 20%; VentureBeat is even less optimistic) eventually deliver on their promise. A staggering failure rate can be attributed to several factors, including a lack of collaboration between data scientists and software engineers, limited or low-quality training data, and the absence of a company-wide data strategy. Most often, however, failed AI projects are characterized as “moon shots” — i.e., over-ambitious endeavors led by starry-eyed data scientists and CIOs seeking to “completely change the way our company has been operating for decades.” Such projects may take forever to complete, and it’s only natural that, at some point, a company’s C-Suite stops pouring money into the bottomless pit without seeing a glimpse of real value.

How much does AI cost? These examples from the ITRex portfolio might give you a hintProject

1: AI-powered telemedicine solution

A healthcare technology company approached ITRex to upgrade an existing telehealth system with video recording capabilities, which is implemented in multiple hospitals across the USA. The new version of the system would allow healthcare providers to apply facial recognition and natural language processing technologies to analyze videos filmed during consultations and potentially improve doctor-patient interactions. During the discovery phase, we ruled out possible technology barriers and selected the optimum tools for the project — primarily Python and the accompanying frameworks and SDKs for speech recognition and analysis. For the pilot version of the telemedicine system, the client selected the speech-to-text functionality only, with no user-facing components expected to ship. The solution conducts linguistic analysis of video recordings to detect possible changes in the communication style that could shed light on patients’ well-being and help physicians come up with better treatment plans. A basic version of a video/speech analysis AI platform may cost $36–56 thousand.

Project 2: An intelligent recommendation engine

A technopreneur was looking to add AI capabilities to a B2C platform connecting users with local service providers. Our client’s idea revolved around replacing cumbersome search filters with advanced machine learning algorithms that would analyze input text and come up with a list of service providers that match a user’s query. We selected Amazon Personalize as the primary technology stack for the AI part of the project. In addition to providing personalized recommendations based on user inquiries, the solution comes along with a fully managed cloud infrastructure for training, deploying, and hosting ML models. The system’s back end would be written in Python, while user data would be securely stored in the cloud (Amazon S3). The development, testing, and deployment of a similar artificial intelligence platform (MVP) would cost you anything between $20 thousand and $35 thousand.

Project 3: An AI-driven art generator

A renowned visual artist turned to ITRex to create an AI solution that would generate new paintings based on his works and the works of other authors who inspire him. The client was looking to build a minimum viable product (MVP) version of the system over the course of several weeks to present it at an exhibition. The ITRex team proposed creating a neural network based on Python frameworks (PyTorch, TensorFlow) that would process abstract paintings, learn the artist’s trademark style, produce similar pictures, and display them on the artist’s official website. For the MVP version, we suggested using the Instagram-like 1000 x 1000 image resolution and deploy the AI solution locally, leaving an option to port the system to the cloud in the future. Depending on the type of training data (e.g., abstract vs. figurative art), image resolution (HD vs. low-resolution output images), and deployment approach, the cost of building an MVP version of an artificial intelligence system like this could reach $19–34 thousand.

How to reduce AI costs — and start benefiting from artificial intelligence ASAP

A recent article published by the Forbes Technology Council suggests that building and deploying an AI solution will ultimately cost your company 15 times more than you planned originally — unless you already have an efficiently built data ecosystem in place. Larger AI development costs typically stem from significant infrastructure optimization, data integration, security, and artificial intelligence management and control efforts. However, you can minimize these expenses by thoroughly planning your project and starting small while having a bigger picture in the corner of your mind.

To help you build an artificial intelligence system at a lower cost and start reaping its benefits from day one, the ITRex team prepared a high-level AI development and implementation guide.

Its general idea revolves around taking an Agile approach as it might be hard to elicit all the requirements for a custom AI solution at the beginning of your journey. Another advantage of this approach is that you start seeing a sizable ROI early on; this, in turn, helps get buy-in from your company’s C-Suite and secure further funding.

Here’s how you should approach your pilot project:

  • Collect stakeholder feedback. Before you start building an AI system, we recommend that you talk to internal and external stakeholders to determine the key process and decision flows that can be augmented or automated with AI’s help.
  • Identify priority use cases. In this step, you should use a product prioritization framework (e.g., MoSCoW, RICE, or Kano) to select business cases that will drive the most value during the interim period and serve as a basis for further AI implementations.
  • Select the optimum technology stack. We recommend that you utilize a combination of custom-made, open-source, and off-the-shelf components (e.g., plug-and-play facial recognition engines, API-driven voice assistants, and cloud-based services supporting the creation and training of AI algorithms) to create a vendor-agnostic solution and reduce overall AI development cost. Special attention should be paid to UI design: your future AI system should incorporate a user-friendly interface that enables stakeholders to ask artificial intelligence questions, get instant insights, or automate tasks without seeking assistance from your IT department.
  • Prepare data subject to AI-driven analysis. To help algorithms make sense of your business data, it is essential to gather information, assess its quantity and quality, and bring it into a unified format. For this, a number of data collection, preparation, and normalization techniques can be applied.
  • Create an MVP version of your AI system. Starting with a minimum viable product supporting the essential use cases is one of AI development best practices. With an MVP at your hands, you’ll be able to check the feasibility of your concept, pinpoint areas for algorithm improvement, and start scaling the system across different use cases and departments.
  • Treat AI implementation as a work in progress. Once you put artificial intelligence to work, you may not get perfect results right from the onset; as your AI system consumes new information under the supervision of human specialists, it will deliver more accurate predictions and become more autonomous. It is therefore important to continue gathering feedback from your company’s stakeholders, making the necessary changes to the system, and repeating the steps enumerated above when introducing new features and use cases.

In the end, how much does artificial intelligence cost?

Although it’s hard to estimate the cost of creating and implementing an artificial intelligence application without diving into your project’s details, you may easily spend $50 thousand on a very basic version of the system you’re looking to build. Is the game worth the candle? By 2030, artificial intelligence could contribute up to $15.7 trillion to the global economy, with increased productivity and automation driving the lion’s share of this sum. Currently, the AI revolution is still in its early stages. While some countries, industries, and companies might be better prepared for the disruption (meaning they do have the necessary data and IT infrastructure in place to create and deploy custom AI solutions at scale), the competitive advantage is elusive, since there is an opportunity for every business to transform the way they work and lead the AI race. And your company is no exception.

Wondering how much it would cost you to build a custom AI solution? Feel free to discuss your project with ITRex experts!

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