Artificial intelligence (or AI) has been defined as “the study and design of intelligent agents”1… that is, a system that’s able to perceive its environment then take actions that maximise its chances of success.
A decade or two ago, most of us believed AI was a thing of fantasy. Sure, researchers were working on it, and computers with machine learning were able to beat the world’s best at Chess, but we assumed AI would never really materialise in the commercial world.
We were wrong.
Oxford University’s Allan Dafoe believes AI is already at the point where it can transform every industry and even devise new solutions to existing problems that are novel and innovative.2
And we’re seeing it.
In Belgium, researchers have developed a robotic harvester called a ‘sweeper’, which detects ripe produce using computer vision then picks accordingly.3
They believe robotic harvesting will revolutionise the economics of the agriculture industry and dramatically reduce food waste.
“The Sweeper picks methodically and accurately,” says Polina Kurtser, a Ph.D. candidate in the Ben-Gurion University’s Department of Industrial Engineering and Management. “When it is fully developed, it will enable harvesting 24/7, drastically reduce spoilage, cut labour costs and shield farmers from market fluctuations.”
They’re currently working to increase the robot’s speed and anticipate commercialisation within four to five years.
In Singapore, scientists at Nanyang Technological University have developed a technology that enables two robots to work together to 3D-print a concrete structure.4
Known as ‘swarm printing’, they believe that eventually multiple robots will be taken to construction sites, where they will work together to print architectural features and facades.
“This research builds on the knowledge we have acquired from developing a robot to autonomously assemble an Ikea chair. But this latest project is more complex in terms of planning, execution, and on a much larger scale,” said Asst Prof Pham from NTU’s School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.
A computer maps out the design to be printed and assigns a specific part of the printing to a robot. It then uses an algorithm to ensure the robot arms don’t collide during the concurrent printing.
Using precise location positioning, the robots move into place and print the parts in good alignment, ensuring joints are overlapped before the joins are sealed with a specialised liquid concrete mix.
Medicine is not immune from AI either. A team of scientists at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute in the United States, for instance, has designed an AI algorithm that learns signatures from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), genetics, and clinical data, to make accurate predictions regarding cognitive decline leading to Alzheimer’s disease.5
It can help predict whether an individual’s cognitive faculties are likely to deteriorate towards Alzheimer’s in the next five years. The knowledge will help doctors streamline treatments and initiate lifestyle changes that may delay the early stages of Alzheimer’s or even prevent it altogether.
What’s It To You?
With these examples in mind, it’s easy to see why Professor Jenny Stewart, a visiting fellow at UNSW Canberra’s school of business, believes that with artificial intelligence, computers are poised to conquer skills that we like to think of as uniquely human. That is, “the ability to extract patterns and solve problems by analysing data, to plan and undertake tasks, to learn from our own experience and that of others, and to deploy complex forms of reasoning”.2
The good news is, she believes that when it comes to protecting our jobs, there’s no need to be worried.
Experience shows that humans are very good at finding things to do.
Currently, less than 5% of occupations are entirely automated, and about 60% of occupations have at least 30% of tasks that can be automated.6 While there is considerable potential for automation to continue, especially given the rapidly evolving power of AI chances are we humans will continue to dominate machines when it comes to creativity, interpersonal relations, caring, empathy, dexterity, mobility.
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- American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. “New robot picks a peck of peppers and more.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 September 2018.
- Xu Zhang, Mingyang Li, Jian Hui Lim, Yiwei Weng, Yi Wei Daniel Tay, Hung Pham, Quang-Cuong Pham. Large-scale 3D printing by a team of mobile robots. Automation in Construction, 2018; 95: 98
- Nikhil Bhagwat, Joseph D. Viviano, Aristotle N. Voineskos, M. Mallar Chakravarty. Modeling and prediction of clinical symptom trajectories in Alzheimer’s disease using longitudinal data. PLOS Computational Biology, 2018; 14 (9): e1006376