Insights | 12.4.19

Technologies That Inspire – Artificial Intelligence By Rob Baum, CEO of TechFlow

The tech: Artificial Intelligence (AI) – Artificial intelligence (AI) is the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines, especially computer systems. These processes include learning (the acquisition of information and rules for using the information), reasoning (using rules to reach approximate or definite conclusions) and self-correction.

My take: Artificial Intelligence is amazing.  I can remember studying AI back at the University of Michigan.  Its evolution from those early days to now is nothing short of incredible. Back in the day, most records were paper-based, processing speeds were slow, and computer memory was measured in megabytes.  Fast forward to today, where the world has gone digital, processing speeds have doubled every year, and computer memory is measured in terabytes or petabytes.  While there were clearly limitations in the past, the time for AI is now.

The ability of AI to blend data sets and extrapolate connections is exciting.  Let me illustrate with a relevant example from my company, TechFlow.  As part of one of our flagship projects, we are responsible for operations and maintenance on complex high-tech equipment.  This work has included collecting data on service repair orders, part failures, operating hours, and usage.  While a human can scan across data and find relationships, properly inserted AI can do it faster, better and cheaper!  In addition, a system using AI in combination with adding feeds outside of our own controlled data sets, can relate factors and identify relationships to events or occurrences never imagined.  To improve our insights, we combined weather data (like humidity, temperature, etc.) with electric grid data (energy fluctuations, power cycles, etc.) to our data sets to highlight at a high-level the effects of humidity and power on maintenance requirements.  We anticipate, as we improve our engine, this will allow us to adjust predictive maintenance schedules for this high-tech machinery to eliminate down time resulting in significant cost-savings and improved customer service for our client.  That is powerful!

And that is just the beginning! AI is at its infancy (early stage). Innovation for AI will primarily come from its use to solve problems relating digital data sets.  Its ability to extrapolate across data to find interesting connections will provide new and never thought of improvements to our lives and I believe the biggest “a-ha” discoveries will be driven primarily by the digitization of everyday data and the ability to process it. As such, at TechFlow, we are actively leveraging AI in our solutioning for clients.  We are excited to extend its utility to drive new solutions from existing data sets.  Knowing its potential impact, we are ensuring that we design and capture elements and grab data sets to apply against this technology. We have learned early-on that data must be structured properly to facilitate decision-making.

AI tools are becoming more varied, sophisticated and smarter.  There are definitely more options. For our industry, AI is the new buzz word.  Many proclaim expertise, few possess it.  On the world impact, you are already seeing AI impact and change behavior.  Who doesn’t talk to Siri, “Hey Google”, or chat with Alexa?  Tesla is a software-defined automobile that learns the way you drive in order to provide you a better driving experience. NetFlix uses AI to offer recommendations on the basis of consumers’ reaction, interests, choices, and behavior with the service.  The Nest Learning Thermostat uses behavioral algorithms to save energy based on your behavior and schedule. With the help of AI, farmers can now analyze a variety of things in real-time such as weather conditions, temperature, water usage or soil conditions collected from their farm to better inform their decisions. Our government is using AI to help process and make sense of the ginormous amount of digital data available to our analysts in support of better decision-making.

Initially, AI was crunched on powerful computers at centralized locations.  Today, you are seeing more and more AI being pushed to the edge.  With a more connected world, it becomes easier to distribute AI processing to the edge and leverage edge connectivity thru cloud infrastructure.  We are already seeing more “smart” devices.  Devices will continue to be “smarter” – they will get the benefit of huge data sets to help drive decision-making.  Look at SIRI on an Apple iWatch, or Alexa on a thermostat, or Google on a speaker.  Devices will increasingly know who you are, what you like, and how you do things.  The age of personalization will be driven by AI’s ability to understand how an individual responds to his environment. I think you will also see “edge decision-making” – where an IoT device can leverage the vast experience of similar devices and make a decision rather than waiting for one to be made.

AI is already solving problems quicker through AI-powered analytics. Using AI in test scripts, the TechFlow team has been able to produce faster and better-quality code.  In medicine, the correlation of results has yielded improvements to the drugs being produced. And, I believe you will see AI applied extensively in medical and health fields to drive the creation of new drugs or solutions to diseases.  Weather forecasting has improved through the application of AI to weather data.  By making smarter decisions based on AI findings, we are increasing world productivity.  I believe you will see more and more use of AI to help solve or simplify problems creating better, more optimized solutions.

As with any powerful technology, it can also be deployed to cause harm rather than good. One area that is scary that is really happening today is the weaponized-use of AI outside of our borders.  I have been to a few seminars and talked to a few folks inside the IC Community that touched on what some of our competitor nation-states are doing with AI in terms of cyber-attacks, attack drones, and other malicious projects.  AI without proper regulation is a recipe for disaster as highlighted in modern-day robots take-over the world movies like “Terminator”.  Arnold Schwarzenegger showcased a chilling projection of a future with AI.   We need to be cognizant of what we trust AI to do.  On one extreme, we may consider only entrusting our AI tools with simple decisions. On the other end, complex, life-altering decisions might require some level of human intervention.  While we can mimic emotions, I do not believe that AI will ever be able to feel like we do.  As a result, it will be important to keep control over how much we allow AI to make decisions that impact and run our lives.

AI will most certainly be a technology that inspires impactful solutions in our lifetime.  I feel privileged to work for a company like TechFlow that is using AI to better our world!