On the face of it, artificial intelligence (AI) involves a straightforward proposition: let’s have computers perform tasks usually reserved for humans in the hope that they can be performed more efficiently and with greater accuracy, or in a way that unleashes innovation. AI-favourable tasks include not only decision-making but also some of the most human of all behaviours – namely, visual perception and speech recognition. At its core, AI is all about perceiving the environment and taking action to achieve a certain goal.
The case of driverless vehicles illustrates the potential of AI in the real world. This new technology could make transportation more efficient by reducing asset ownership, optimizing traffic patterns and saving fuel. Instead of a human at the wheel, sensors would do the job of ascertaining conditions, while a computer equipped with AI would steer the vehicle to its destination safely and efficiently.
Robotics is another rich area. For decades, automated manufacturing systems have performed assembly operations with an increasing degree of accuracy. But would it be possible for robots or computers to autonomously organize other robots to perform tasks? Could they be entrusted with the authority to stop the production process and reorganize it in a better way?
Then, there’s home robotics. Care for seniors is becoming expensive in countries with ageing populations. Toyota and Hitachi, among many other companies, are developing prototypes that learn how to take care of an individual in accordance with his or her habits and health background. In many ways, the technologies underlying home robotics are similar to those behind autonomous vehicles: gauge the conditions and act accordingly.
Big data and AI are converging, as companies seek ways to break down large amounts of data and remove humans from the task of deciding what information to gather and use. Human biases are notoriously large when it comes to deciding what to read or to pay attention to. We focus on certain aspects of a problem and not others, as a result of our experience, culture or training. For decades, we have used computers to process information without enabling them to decide what information to secure and use.
AI can be deployed for many other business and non-business purposes. For instance, the US car services company INRIX has developed a cloud-based AI system called Autotelligent, which learns a person’s driving habits to figure out preferred routes and anticipate trips, checking calendar information to add events to the user’s itinerary. Once it figures out when and where a driver needs to go, it can analyze the traffic based on data from 275 million users. From that, it can suggest the ideal departure hour, adjust arrival times and provide options should the driver need to pick up things like food, gas or electricity. The app is proactive, letting users report accidents, police activity and road hazards. The driver can also send map feedback about closed routes and other traffic problems directly via the app.
Indian company GreyOrange, meanwhile, has built two different AI-powered robots to help warehouses become more productive. The first, known as Butler, can pick 400-500 products per hour from the shelves, as compared to 100-120 products per hour by humans. The second robot, Sorter, automates the sorting of outgoing packages in a distribution centre. The company claims that the robots they already have installed can potentially sort three million packages every day.
AI use has a potentially far-reaching impact in emerging markets, and especially for businesses that cater to the billions of middle- and low-income consumers. UAE Exchange is a United Arab Emirates-based company dealing primarily in remittances, foreign exchange and bill payment solutions. It has launched the virtual assistant ZOEY to help its customers. Accessible 24/7 through the company’s website and social media channels such as Facebook Messenger, ZOEY has the potential to become a leading channel of communication between the brand and its customers.
In India alone, 17 people die in road accidents every hour, while 1,214 vehicle crashes occur every day. We have read examples of how complex healthcare processes are managed manually and a small error can lead to catastrophic outcomes. AI has the power to solve these real problems in ways that will have massive benefits to many in society. Any new technological possibility will cause panic, but if used well it could create new possibilities for business and humanity in general.