If you are looking for an answer to the question What is Artificial Intelligence? and you only have a minute, then here's the definition the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence offers on its home page: "the scientific understanding of the mechanisms underlying thought and intelligent behavior and their embodiment in machines."
However, if you are fortunate enough to have more than a minute, then please get ready to embark upon an exciting journey exploring AI (but beware, it could last a lifetime) …
The world of automation has changed in the past year. Just six months ago, tech and business leaders would lightly suggest automation ideas, jockey for budget, and get nods and smiles for their efforts but little commitment. Now, automation has moved to heated board-level discussions that often end with statements such as "If we don't automate everything we can, we may not survive." There are some things that machines are simply better at doing than humans, but humans still have plenty going for them. Here's a look at how the two are going to work in concert to deliver a more powerful future for IT, and the human race.
Salah Sukkarieh is Professor of Robotics and Intelligent Systems at the University of Sydney, and Director of Research and Innovation at the Australian Centre for Field Robotics. He has worked on autonomous systems for ports, mines, aerospace, and, most recently, agriculture. He recalls that when he started working on drone technology there were not many aerospace companies in Australia working on drones, and those that were were not interested in drones for agriculture or the environment as the business case didn't stack up financially. Australia's size and the remoteness of many rural areas have also been deterrents. There is strong interest from the agriculture industry in the use of robotics and automation to support farmers, and he is surprised by the number of students who are interested in working on these projects.
A lasting legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic is that work will never be the same. Thanks to the two As, automation and artificial intelligence (AI), expect to see significant growth and changes in 2021. "The'great lockdown' of 2020 will make the drive for automation in 2021 both inevitable and irreversible,'' according to Forrester's Predictions 2021. "Remote work, new digital muscles, and pandemic constraints will create millions of pragmatic automations in 2021; document extraction, RPA (robotic process automation) from anywhere, drones, and various employee robots will proliferate; and, as expected, the mad dash to automate will bring trouble." At the same time, while AI didn't predict the pandemic, it will help businesses rethink the future of work; drive more efficiency, elasticity, and scale in operations; and reimagine customer and employee experiences, Forrester said. AI is driving the growth of automated processes, helping them become smarter. Companies that adopt machine learning, a subset of AI, "will massively multiply their number of AI use cases, including for employee augmentation and automation,'' the firm said.
The golden age of drone delivery has begun. Did you know drones and their associated functions are a $50 billion industry by 2023? Industry experts are predicting unprecedented use in previously unimaginable applications with deep-learning now powering these drones. Drone delivery services has become an essential tool in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, helping to create contactless delivery and resilient supply chain services. The retail industry is leading the way in adopting drone delivery services among both consumers and companies.
When employees are encouraged or mandated to spend less time on a worksite or in a factory because of social distancing guidelines, drones can take the place of their eyes and ears to autonomously monitor facilities -- both indoors and out. In the municipalities, manufacturing, construction, oil and gas industries, using AI and computer vision in unmanned aerial vehicles can augment existing workforces for even greater distribution. Drones can identify hazards or noncompliance issues and notify site managers to prevent errors that lead to accidents. Over time, remote monitoring reduces costs and boosts revenues in low-margin industries through quality assurance. In construction, drones may use laser scanning to accurately measure progress at the site, comparing data collected with computer-aided design models for the project.
Drone connectivity in the sky is an indispensable part of the Internet of Things (IoT): Anywhere, Anytime, Anything. In a recent summer internship project at Ericsson, we explored how Artificial Intelligence (AI) can empower drone mobility support in 5G networks. Our work received the Best Paper Award at the 2020 IEEE Wireless Communications and Networking Conference (WCNC 2020). The award is a recognition of the Ericsson internship program, which offers candidates a chance to learn about the world of work while working on projects that are changing the world of communications. Drones have many applications, ranging from package delivery and surveillance to remote sensing and IoT scenarios.
Since September 2018, FedEx has been inspecting its aircraft at a busy international airport using drones that normally wouldn't be allowed anywhere near the facility. Strict regulations prohibit drones from sharing airspace with planes, but a novel FAA pilot that includes FedEx, as well as drone companies such as DJI and Asylon, could change that in the future. Drone inspection has long been a hot area for enterprise drones, including in unexpected spaces, but this program is a real watershed in the FAA's evolving approach to drone regulation. I reached out to Joel Murdock, managing director at FedEx Express, for insights about the company's airport drone operations and what it means for the future of enterprise drones in sensitive areas, and he's optimistic. "We believe drones could help improve efficiencies around aircraft inspections and maintenance at our World Hub at Memphis International Airport," says Murdock, "and other airports around the country. We also believe drones can be used to supplement our existing airport perimeter surveillance and runway/taxiway FOD detection activities."
The Boston Fire Department started to use emerging technology to fight fires in the last couple of years. In collaboration with Karen Panetta, an IEEE fellow and dean of Graduate Education at Tufts University's School of Engineering, the department is using AI for object recognition. The goal is to be able to use a drone or robot that can locate objects in a burning building. Panetta worked with the department to develop prototype technology that leverages IoT sensors and AI in tandem with robotics to help first responders "see" through blazes to detect and locate objects – and people. The AI technology she developed analyzes data coming from sensors that firefighters wear, and it recognizes objects that can be navigated in a fire.
Following the devastating Black Summer bushfires, New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife has been using drones to assist with post-fire recovery. Speaking as part of the digital DroneDeploy Conference this week, NSW National Parks and Wildlife chief remote pilot Gareth Pickford explained that using drones to assist various stakeholders within the NSW government to assess the damage caused by bushfires last summer is a cost-effective and efficient way to collect data. "The types of data that we actually were planning on getting out in the field was around fire severity areas that were affected by fires, not just in local parks that are open to tourism, but also wilderness areas, which are natural habitats to certain species that may have been affected by fire," he said. "We wanted to understand how much they were going to be affected by the fire, and its post-effects." Some of the specific activities that the drones were used for included ecology assessments, which are live snapshots and maps of different terrains across the state; multispectral mapping to examine the types of vegetation that either survived or were destroyed; archeological analysis of historical sites; and evening thermal scanning to assess the animal population in certain areas, particularly in remaining vegetation patches.
No one will argue that 2020 will go down as one of the most tumultuous, disruptive and unexpected years in recent history. Not only has the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically impacted the way in which people work and live their lives, but it has shifted the way we interact with the broader society. While the long-term effects are as yet unknown, with remote work and social distancing becoming the new normal, it makes sense that this will make way for innovation within the field of artificial intelligence (AI). That's why 2021 promises to be a big year in terms of AI, as it takes center stage in anything from automated detection and prevention to decision making and forecasting. Behind the scenes, technology is percolating, promising to brew up something bigger and better than we have ever known – all born out of a pandemic that has changed every one of our lives.