There’s no escaping AI

Region needs to embrace changing technology

Posted on Apr 30, 2019 :: Feature
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Posted by Kim Iversen, Director, NEW IT Alliance

Artificial Intelligence: We hear about it everywhere, with experts predicting 30 to 50 percent job displacement within the next 15 years as a result of AI. In fact, there’s even a website (willrobotstakemyjob.com) that predicts the likelihood of an AI robot taking your job.

With all the hype about AI, you might think this is some new type of technology. In fact, it was first discussed at a conference back in 1956. AI gained popularity again in the 1980s. In fact, I remember my older brother talking about his college classes and sharing how this AI technology was going to change the world. Then it disappeared again, until roughly 1997 when IBM’s Deep Blue started making headlines. Since then, we have seen steadily more headlines about AI and the amazing things it can do.

So, what is AI? That’s a question everyone is asking these days. The simple answer is, it’s not just one thing. The longer answer is — AI is a group of activities computers can do that mimic human thought and actions … often faster than we can. The list of activities that fall under the AI umbrella is long and not completely agreed upon, not even by the experts. This makes tracking progress and testing capabilities somewhat of a challenge, even for organizations like Stanford University when it pulls together its annual AI Index.

If experts can’t agree exactly on what AI is, and how to measure its progress, do we Wisconsinites need to care? The answer is a resounding yes! Just ask the leaders at Advancing AI Wisconsin. They’ll tell you that we are woefully far behind in our understanding of what AI is, how it will impact our local companies and how we need to reskill our workforce.

For employers looking for workers who have the right skill sets, the NEW IT Alliance Higher Education Committee and NEW Computer Science Advisory Board are in place to serve as a connection between educators and employers to make sure our youth will graduate from high school and college with the digital skills necessary to be informed citizens and enter an increasingly digital workforce regardless of their chosen field.

There are several questions and risks related to AI that need to be addressed, but we cannot afford to sit idly by while others answer these questions. Are you ready for the wave?

Kim Iversen, Director, NEW IT Alliance

 

While touring Green Bay’s Wisconsin Plastics Inc., I watched a robot grab a tray of plastic pieces out of a machine and then precisely and repeatedly drop a small piece of metal in the same exact spot on each piece. When a human employee worked in that area, it not only posed an increased chance of error (people can get tired, while robots don’t), but that worker was also at risk for a repetitive motion injury due to the way he or she would have to move to take the parts from the machine.

After Shirley (that’s what employees named the robot) arrived, the employees who previously worked in that spot were moved to another part of WPI’s facility where more workers were needed.

That’s just one example of how technology is changing today’s manufacturers. Yes, Shirley replaced a human employee, but with the severe worker shortage, WPI was better able to utilize that person elsewhere. The talent deficit is not going to end anytime soon, so businesses need different ideas to get the work done.

The service industry is also interested in using technology to help stem its workforce shortage. I remember listening to Oliver Buechse, executive director of Advancing AI Wisconsin, last fall where he discussed how experts predict robots using AI will serve as front-line cashiers at fast food restaurants within 10 years. Fast food restaurants struggle to find and keep workers, and using robots would provide a good solution to their problem. Using facial recognition and AI, the robots would take your order and reference, perhaps, a previous order you’d made at the restaurant. 

Technology — whether it’s AI or robots — provides businesses with multiple solutions to their potential problems, from increasing productivity to dealing with the workforce shortage. The next few years will be fascinating to watch as companies incorporate these technologies and solutions into their businesses.

 

MaryBeth Matzek, Managing Editor

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