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Robot "Pepper" communicates with journalists and guests at the Museum der Arbeit in Hamburg, Germany. Photo: Christian Charisius/picture alliance via Getty Images

For all the talk around artificial intelligence, recent surveys show just 3%–4% of firms are actually using it for broad-scale business.

Driving the news: Microsoft used a San Francisco event Tuesday to show off some of the companies that are using the technology effectively.

  • AB InBev has a platform called SmartBarley that gathers data from 8,000 of the company's suppliers to help them improve yields and lower their environmental impact. The growers agree to share their data with AB InBev, which in turn shares back the AI-derived insights with the farmers. "We are not a digital company. We are a company that is being digitized," AB InBev's Tassilo Festetics says.
  • Arccos Golf showed how it's using AI to create a virtual caddie for golfers that is able to assess a player's stroke, weather and other conditions. The startup says the early results are promising, with customers shaving an average of nearly 4 strokes off their game.

Even if they don't know how to get started, companies are interested in the technology, says Julia White, a VP in Microsoft's Azure unit. "People recognize the promise of AI," she says.

The big picture: The problem, though, is that most still don't know what it takes to get started, White adds. Both Microsoft and the customers on stage Tuesday agreed that it mostly boils down to data. If you want to use AI in your business, you need lots of data and it has to be in a common format.

"Everyone wants to focus on the sizzle," White says. "Where’s my new bot? Well what’s your bot going to learn from?"

In response, Microsoft is increasing its investment in tools that help companies build their own chatbot. The company announced this morning it's purchasing XOXCO, maker of Howdy, one of the first commercial chatbots.

Yes, but: Expectations around the AI business are often overblown today. White acknowledges this, but puts the blame on other companies.

  • "There was so much hype around Watson and other things that have been disappointing," White says.

Doubts persist: Maribel Lopez, of Lopez Research, says her research shows that just 3% of companies have invested enough in AI to see a significant return on investment, while 89% said that the big cloud companies have overpromised on AI.

Flashback: A year ago, MIT-Boston Consulting Group released a survey that also said American business executives expect AI to have a large impact on their companies but few were actually adopting the needed technologies.

Go deeper

The Biden protection plan

Joe Biden announces his first run for the presidency in June 1987. Photo: Howard L. Sachs/CNP/Getty Images

The Joe Biden who became the 46th president on Wednesday isn't the same blabbermouth who failed in 1988 and 2008.

Why it matters: Biden now heeds guidance about staying on task with speeches and no longer worries a gaffe or two will cost him an election. His staff also limits the places where he speaks freely and off the cuff. This Biden protective bubble will only tighten in the months ahead, aides tell Axios.

Bush labels Clyburn the “savior” for Democrats

House Majority Whip James Clyburn takes a selfie Wednesday with former President George W. Bush. Photo: Patrick Semansky-Pool/Getty Images

Former President George W. Bush credited Rep. James Clyburn with being the "savior" of the Democratic Party, telling the South Carolinian at Wednesday's inauguration his endorsement allowed Joe Biden to win the party's presidential nomination.

Why it matters: The nation's last two-term Republican president also said Clyburn's nod allowed for the transfer of power, because he felt only Biden had the ability to unseat President Trump.

GOP research firm aims to hobble Biden nominees

Alejandro Mayorkas. Photo: Joshua Roberts/AFP via Getty Images

The Republican-aligned opposition research group America Rising is doing all it can to prevent President Biden from seating his top Cabinet picks.

Why it matters: After former President Trump inhibited the transition, Biden is hoping the Republican minority in Congress will cooperate with getting his team in place. Biden hadn't even been sworn in when America Rising began blasting opposition research to reporters targeting Janet Yellen and Alejandro Mayorkas.