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The robots are coming – Artificial Intelligence predictions for the Year Ahead

As early as 1950, pioneering computer scientist Alan Turing made some predictions about Artificial Intelligence (AI), saying: “I believe that at the end of the century, the use of words and general educated opinion will have altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted.”

by Dr. Joseph Reger, Fujitsu Fellow and Chief Technology Officer for Europe, Middle East, India and Africa.

Almost seventy years later, while we rarely talk today of machines thinking, we already take many instances of artificial intelligence for granted as we interact with machines every day When we look back, I expect this year to be a tipping point in terms of AI becoming a reality, with businesses successfully leveraging it to derive significant benefits.

Here’s how I believe the industry will continue to advance over the course of 2018…

Ubiquitous virtual assistants

Most of us already frequently interact with artificial intelligence, for example when we call our banks and insurance companies. The chatbots that answer and direct our calls are obviously not human, but we believe that it is soon going to get harder and harder to tell. Their understanding of language is improving all the time – which is helpful for those of us with an accent – and we will increasingly find contact with machines becoming more and more natural. This is also great news for call centre agents who will be able to focus on handing more complex issues that will still require the more “human” characteristics of creativity and empathy.

Government health programs will turn to AI

While the medical industry can be described as cautious when it comes to transforming technology systems, the last few years have seen hospitals transform from paper-based to digital systems. AI is being used in many cases to review these newly-digitalised medical records and to support clinical staff by helping predict or highlight life threatening conditions or behaviours – for example at the San Carlos Hospital in Madrid. With medical spending becoming an increasingly contentious topic in most countries, we will likely see AI being leveraged to accelerate diagnosis and for preventive medicine.

At least two disruptive AI business models will emerge in the next 12 months

Digitalisation has transformed many industries – just a few years ago it would have been unthinkable to imagine that Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory, or that Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. I believe we’re going to see AI deliver disruption on a similar scale. Our advice is to keep a close eye on the retail industry – which is ripe for the first wave of AI-based disruption. We will see AI taking the place of your spouse and/or friend while you are shopping, making suggestions not just for accessories but advising you on style.

Over the course of 2018, the net effect of AI will be positive for the workforce

This year, we’re going to see the emergence of a whole new market for AI-based jobs. Initially we’ll continue to see demand for individuals with AI skills– but this will be followed by a new wave of less technical jobs – from user experience experts to customer focussed copywriters who will draft chatbot scripts. As AI penetrates further into the workplace, its successful adoption will depend on people’s trust in the recommendations given by AI systems. This will give rise to a whole new collection of jobs at the interface between the AI systems and the people who interact with them.

Beyond this year (and possibly the next two), we expect the landscape to change more dramatically, as AI systems increasingly automate many traditional jobs – a trend which will create a growing challenge in the labour market by 2020.

Assembly line workers will increasingly have robotic colleagues

To date, robots have been largely restricted to working on manufacturing lines. However, the emerging generation of smart autonomous robots can see, touch, and collaborate safely with humans while taking on the heavy lifting of assembly work in addition to boring, routine tasks. At our factory in Augsburg in Germany we have collaborated with robotic expert Kuka to develop a “smart” robot that recognises when humans are close, ensuring that there is no danger of injury, for example by the sudden, unexpected movement of a robotic arm. This is the very first step towards a hybrid work environment where humans and robots will work hand in hand

All aspects of manufacturing will use AI to some extent by the end of 2018

We believe that all larger manufacturing companies will use AI for at least some part of the value chain, either in logistics, manufacturing or maintenance. In manufacturing, yield is king, so we’re going to see many more implementations of AI at the process control level, using machine learning to better control processes to improve output. We’re also going to see manufacturers deploy AI at the plant level – helping optimise production and to continuously re-plan to accommodate unexpected events such as supplier delays or unplanned machine downtime. And on the subject of downtime, we’re going to see machine learning deployed for predictive maintenance – allowing us to replace systems before failure and to coordinate any downtime, leading to significant cost savings and increased availability.

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