Experts predict how AI will create a better tomorrow

The human brain is an incredibly powerful processing unit. Still, there are pieces of information so large that armies of human beings working in unison are unable to scratch the surface. Equally, there are countless tasks today performed by people that are, in many ways, below our abilities, and that would better be handled by computers or machines — freeing us up to concentrate on the higher, creative thinking that only the human mind is are capable of.

Artificial intelligence (AI) effectively remedies each of these pain points. Many experts predict that over the coming decades, AI will empower mankind to vastly improve the human condition and the state of the planet we inhabit.

One such authority is Fabrice Fischer. The founder and CEO of Blu Ltd, a leading AI consultancy that helps companies harness artificial intelligence, Fischer was previously the CFO of Sentient Technologies, one of the world’s best funded AI solutions providers.

“We are undergoing a revolution. AI allows us to go through a massive amount of data and find patterns and optimums, and that opens up a lot of opportunities,” Fischer says. “When you find a pattern, you can automate the response to that pattern. The most serious effect this can have is in the reduction of wastage. Today, we waste a massive amount of resources — gas, electricity, food, water, all kinds of things.” Fischer says that via AI’s ability to ‘slice and dice’ information (cut a large segment of data into smaller parts until the correct level of detail for analysis is arrived at), “you can find what is useful and what’s not. You can stop behaviour patterns that lead to wastage.”

Moreover, he says, “You can not only find what is wrong, you can find which patterns are the best, and you can improve a pattern that is not optimum and bring it to its optimum. That’s going to be super useful in everything from transportation, motors, manufacturing, and the generation of energy.”

A longtime partner of major energy companies (as well as the oil and gas, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and iron and steel industries, among others), leading Japanese industrial automation (IA) and control specialist Yokogawa Electric is investing significantly in the development of new technologies that will allow customers to innovate and thrive in the changing business landscape AI is shaping. Yokogawa believes its automation systems will contribute greatly to the more efficient generation and use of energy.

On a related note, Fischer says he believes we’ll soon enjoy far more affordable, cleaner power, “Because we are innovating ways to do it more cheaply, we’ll make tremendous progress in that thanks to optimization and ending wastage, optimization of power generation, conservation and transport. You’ll have an increased supply at lower cost, and decrease of demand, or at least not a massive increase. I expect decrease of demand, because today our capacity to waste energy is tremendous.”

AI, Fischer believes, will help us identify ways to generate energy closer to the end user, better store excess energy and maximize the effectiveness of the supply we possess. “If you are an energy company, you really need to be focusing on the innovation side. That’s the only way, or you will be out of business soon enough,” Fischer remarks.

AI will help us to identify ways to generate energy closer to the end user, better store excess energy, and maximize the effctiveness of the supply.

Supporting this type of innovation, Yokogawa says its cutting-edge Industrial Automation solutions — harnessing digital control systems and information technologies to smoothly control production processes and machinery — can play a key role in the optimisation of operations at industrial facilities. Doing so, Yokogawa says, requires the implementation of improved machine-to-machine communication (the Industrial Internet of Things, or IIoT), more intelligent and intuitive automation, and the AI-facilitated analysis of ‘big data’ to increase production efficiency, quality and safety — not least through predictive maintenance, preventing the costly and potentially dangerous breakdown of infrastructure. The ultimate result: Safer, more efficient industry, and a safer, cleaner world.

Fischer notes that it’s not just in the energy sector where AI will help alleviate the world’s resource shortages. “In terms of AI for good, it can really help us better manage all our resources, and automation of course,” he says, offering the example of food production, where AI is providing the wherewithal to industrially grow crops under the optimum conditions — the entire process fully automated and computer controlled. The world’s population is expected to grow from its current level of 7.3 billion to 9.7 billion by 2050, but with AI-controlled and optimized production methods, Fischer says, “Population could grow a few fold, and it will not be a problem to feed everybody. Because you optimize and stop wastage, just by doing that, you can probably feed the world’s population multiplied by three, if not by five.”

"The big problem in corporations is their inability to change fast enough, to take some risks, to invest boldly in innovation. It’s a big mistake, because the revolution is happening now"

- Fabrice Fischer   FOUNDER AND CEO, BLU LTD.

The risk individuals and organizations face in the new AI age is in not adapting fast enough, Fischer says. “It’s about the human culture. It’s not about the technology that’s coming but humans embracing the change. The big problem in corporations is their inability to change fast enough, to take some risks. To invest boldly in innovation. It’s a big mistake, because the revolution is happening now.”

Savvier companies, however, are acutely aware of the need to evolve. Yokogawa says it has experienced strong demand for its AI-empowered industrial automation solutions from partners that are pragmatically and enthusiastically adapting to the changes the 21st century is bringing.

The CEO of start-up accelerator JFDI, Hugh Mason is a serial entrepreneur, mentor, professor, and former producer of BBC futurist program, Tomorrow’s World, who has provided guidance and funding to more than 2,000 cutting-edge tech start-ups in the UK, Europe and Singapore. Mason says those wary of the advance of artificial intelligence may be falling into an old psychological trap. “What we’re seeing is the classic, sort of, bipolar reaction to a new technology,” he says. “When you look at every new technology we always project utopias and dystopias onto it. So either robots are going to bring us tea on the lawn or they’re going to take over the world. Either artificial intelligence is going to transform healthcare and make us live forever, or it’s going to come take all of our jobs.”

The reality is, however, “When you look at most technologies, they turn out to be a lot more boring and prosaic than we expected. We already do have robots in our lives. We have automatic washing machines. We have voicemail. We just don’t have clanking metal men,” Mason remarks. “My hunch is that the same pattern will apply here to artificial intelligence, which is that we have it already. It’s there, it probably won’t be the sci-fi thing that we imagine. Over time, it will become transformative, just like the internet did.”

Artificial intelligence will necessitate a certain degree of reskilling in the workforce and the redundancy of certain occupations.

Artificial intelligence will necessitate a certain degree of reskilling in the workforce and the redundancy of certain occupations, Mason believes. And it’s not only in factories that robots and computers will begin performing tasks once handled by humans. “It’s a bit like back in the 1950s, when they used to process checks on paper — those jobs were replaced by automatic machines,” Mason says, explaining that an array of contemporary clerical and data analysis roles will be affected. While this isn’t such great news for people currently doing this work, there will be huge cost reductions and productivity benefits for those who need these types of processing tasks performed.

That certain redundancies will occur should not be viewed as a negative, merely an evolution. Just as it was, with the advent of the car, that horseshoe-making blacksmiths quickly dwindled but automotive mechanics thrived and proliferated, so too will we see an array of new careers created as ‘digital craftspeople’ are required to handle the ‘tools’ of AI and automation. The trick is to evolve swiftly — and avoid suffering the blacksmith’s fate.

"If you just incrementally change, the risk is someone who’s re-engineered the underlying process that you’re trying to deliver will simply wipe you out."

- Hugh Mason   CEO, JFDI.

Mason echoes Fischer’s words that organizations need to adapt and innovate, or risk becoming irrelevant. “What most companies do, over time,” says Mason, “is to take what they’ve already got and improve it slightly,” bolting on new technologies and gradually evolving their pre-existing business. “If you just incrementally change, the risk is someone who’s re-engineered the underlying process that you’re trying to deliver will simply wipe you out.”

Where, in the past, companies have traditionally placed individuals with a financial management background into key executive positions, Mason says today Chief Information Officers are often “being pushed into a much more strategic role, where they’re expected to transform the nature of the business … move away from a traditional business model with IT stuck on to make it more efficient, into a completely new way of working.”

AI will play a central role in forging this new way of working, and this new, better world. As Yokogawa asserts, ultimately, technological tools such as artificial intelligence and industrial automation exist to serve and empower human beings — helping us run better businesses, do greater things and live more impactful lives. That’s true intelligence, nothing artificial about it.

Founded in 1915, Yokogawa engages in broad-ranging activities in the areas of measurement, control, and information. The industrial automation business provides vital products, services, and solutions to a diverse range of process industries including oil, chemicals, natural gas, power, iron and steel, and pulp and paper. With the life innovation business the company aims to radically improve productivity across the pharmaceutical and food industry value chains. The test & measurement, aviation, and other businesses continue to provide essential instruments and equipment with industry-leading precision and reliability.

To learn more about Yokogawa Electric Corporation, click here.

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