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Industry Insight: Smart robots and adaptive buildings – how artificial intelligence will transform the way we live and work

What do Google, Facebook and Twitter all have in common? They are, of course, all instantly recognisable global technology giants, worth billions of dollars apiece. But there’s another common thread that links all three. Each of these leviathans has bet the house on artificial intelligence (AI) emerging as the key means of interpreting data and developing smarter products.

AI is commonly defined as the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages. It is the hot technology topic of the moment.

The amount of resources being spent on AI is enormous, and it is advancing at a staggering pace. Google’s efforts are a case in point. Only last week, its London-based AI subsidiary DeepMind confirmed that it was creating ‘imagination-augmented’ software agents that would exhibit sophisticated behaviours such as having the capability to decide what are and what aren’t useful predictions about its environment. Beyond that, these agents would be able to construct a plan using this knowledge. That’s a frankly astonishing glimpse of AI with simulated creativity, where machines can imagine the future.

But let’s not make the mistake of thinking that AI is just some self-indulgent strand of research with no real-world relevance. There are already plenty of examples where major industrial organisations are looking at how AI might be applied across their business. In manufacturing, robots that could watch, learn and make decisions in real-time could be hugely advantageous in production line environments. It could take us into a new era of cognitive manufacturing, where machine learning underpins efforts to deliver leaner working and improved productivity.

This opportunity isn’t wasted on Siemens. The company has described AI as one of the leading technology topics within its global organisation. It has 200 experts working on data analytics and neural networks, underscoring the investment taking place. In Siemens’ case, it already installs smart boxes to bring older motors and transmissions into the digital age. These boxes contain sensors and a communications interface for data transfer. By analysing the data, Siemens’ AI systems can draw conclusions regarding a machine’s condition and detect irregularities in order to make predictive maintenance possible.

Meanwhile, in the smart building sector, AI is being used to recognise distinct patterns ranging from the number of people in a room to the changing weather conditions outside. Intelligent heating and cooling technologies could then learn to respond to factors in real-time, therefore maximising energy efficiency.

And in the healthcare sector, IBM researchers are looking at how AI could be used to analyse the meaning and context of the mass of data contained in clinical notes and reports that may be critical to selecting a treatment pathway. Then by combining certain details from the patient’s file with clinical expertise, external research, and other data sources, the programs could then identify potential treatment plans for a patient.

It’s clear, then, that AI is causing waves of excitement across a multitude of industrial sectors. It’s not an over-statement to say that it holds the potential to transform industries and to radically improve people’s lives. That’s why Technical Associates Group is producing an in-depth whitepaper detailing the impact of AI across key areas, including manufacturing, healthcare and smart buildings. The whitepaper will be published by the end of year, and this is your chance to get involved. If you are researching AI, or you have knowledge or opinions on the subject, please contact me directly at lhibbert@technical-group.com.

 

Lee Hibbert, Industry Analyst and Content Director, Technical Associates Group (Editor of Professional Engineering, February 2010 - January 2016)

Follow Lee on Twitter for all the latest engineering insights: https://twitter.com/leehibbert1.

 


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