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By Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics Management, American Public University
Note: This article was originally published on InCyberDefense.
From 1985 to 1990, I was the Director of the Army Artificial Intelligence (AI) Center for Logistics, also known as a Knowledge Engineering Group (KEG) for Logistics. We developed artificial intelligence (AI) products to simplify and run logistics and manpower programs and processes.
General Max Thurman, then the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, set up seven KEGs. Their purpose was to create an awareness of the power of AI in military operations and daily applications. He expected the military to get excited and to pursue new AI uses on their own. Today, it looks like General Thurman got his wish.
Artificial Intelligence Is Gradually Replacing Humans
AI systems, smart machines, smart software, autonomous vehicles and robots of all kinds have replaced much of the work performed by humans. For example, since the 1950s, automation has replaced many of the nation’s factory workers.
Major companies’ distribution centers and warehouses are using automated cargo movement, pallet stacking, and inbound and outbound movement of items. A good example is Amazon’s distribution centers, where robots fill orders from stacks of shelves and miles of conveyer belts and move them onto delivery trucks.
Since the introduction of the computer and especially since the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT), new types of jobs, training and education have emerged. Many of these new jobs are related to information technology (IT) positions, data management and various automated systems. At the same time, cybersecurity education and training have also increased over the past 20 years.
Recently, General Motors announced the closing of five auto manufacturing plants with the loss of some 14,000 jobs. While this business decision seems linked to a lack of customer demand for certain model cars manufactured at these plants, the prospect of GM rehiring these workers at a new factory is unlikely. It is quite likely that any new auto factories built or retooled by GM will involve a continued investment in robotic systems.
Use of Robots in Our Society: Crisis or Benefit?
The rise of robots in our workforce, homes and social media is creating a wave of societal technology and automation. But is this wave a crisis or a benefit?
At this time, it could be a crisis. The computer age has resulted in many workers losing their jobs and fewer new hires except for those with specialized technical skills. That could be the fate of those 14,000 GM workers. That might result in what happens to coal miners when they lose their jobs. Computer training classes are being offered to coal miners to start a new career.
AI has also affected K-12 teachers and college professors. Look at the growth of online learning. Today, professors can sit at home and use their laptops and iPhones to conduct classes for students scattered all over the world.
Due to the popularity of IoT, even brick-and-mortar colleges are offering online courses leading to a college degree. In fact, there are numerous colleges with no classrooms, but with more than 100,000 students.
Can robots replace real teachers? It appears they already have. “Robots will begin replacing teachers in the classroom within the next ten years as part of a revolution in one-to-one learning,” according to a 2017 article in The Telegraph.
Smartphones Affect How We Interact with Others
Today, we are addicted to our smartphones. Health professionals are concerned that we are spending too much time on those phones. According to a study of Australian consumers by San Francisco-based media-buying firm Radium One, smartphone use with “the right likes or hits can trigger the release of dopamine – the chemical that causes pleasure sensations.”
Dr. David Greenfield, who founded the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, says that smartphone technology “seems to hamper our ability to manage and balance time, energy, attention, leading to lifestyle changes and behavioral deficits…and [it] impacts motivation.”
The Turing Test: Seeing if a Machine Can Think Like a Human
In 1950, the famous British codebreaker Alan Turing, of Enigma fame, developed the Turing test “to determine whether or not a computer (machine) can think intelligently like [a] human.”
As Turing designed it, the test consisted of three players — a computer and two humans, one of whom is the interrogator and is separated from other two players. The interrogator’s job is to try to figure out which of the two players is human and which is the computer by asking questions of both of them.
To make things harder, the computer tried to make the interrogator guess incorrectly. In other words, the computer attempted to be as indistinguishable from the human as possible. We’ve seen similar AI tests and results when IBM’s super computer Watson proved better at playing Jeopardy than its human competitors.
General AI is coming of age. Gartner predicts that by 2020, natural-language generation and AI will be standard features on 90% of modern business intelligence platforms. These platforms will not only be able to classify data, but also to interpret the data to determine trends and recommend actions.
This is essentially the first step toward a virtual category manager, replacing current data analysts and managers. According to the trade publication Commercial Fleet, technology and automation are expected to affect 76% of transport companies when autonomous trucks become a viable option on the road within the next decade.
Technology and automation are going to cause another unemployment crisis.
Automation should bring value to society. Does it? Yes and no. But the “no” answer needs to be constantly tested and explored further.
About the Author
Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth is a full-time professor at American Public University (APU). He was the program director of three academic programs: Reverse Logistics Management, Transportation and Logistics Management and Government Contracting. He was Chair of the Logistics Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Dr. Hedgepeth was the founding Director of the Army’s Artificial Intelligence Center for Logistics.