There is a lot to suggest that 2018 will be the year in which the subject of artificial intelligence (AI) finally gets the attention it deserves in society and in the world of business. It is already clear that the technology will shake up entire industries and systems, including areas that haven’t even begun to entertain the idea. The subject is already all over the daily news in all kinds of areas:
- Facebook plans the use of chatbots with AI personalities
- AI algorithms help to decipher the ancient Voynich manuscript
- AI manipulates film scenes and swaps actors’ faces at will
It is clear that many are talking about it, but very few people really know what AI is all about and the impact it will have.
Big impact on the job market
Bill Gates, Microsoft founder and IT pioneer, predicts an AI revolution that will completely transform the job market over the next 20 years. Activities that are still performed by humans today can then be taken over by robots or software systems. This by no means relates solely to drivers of taxis or trucks who could be replaced in the near future by autonomous driving systems. Professionals such as administrators, accountants, lawyers, and even doctors could be affected by the radical change. At present, not even researchers or IT experts can predict the speed at which the new digital revolution will reach us, nor the extent to which it will affect us. In view of the forecasts, it is little wonder that there is much uncertainty. It is nonetheless important to allay people’s fears of artificial intelligence. After all, it will help to improve and streamline many different business processes.
The logistics industry can really benefit from AI
One thing for certain is that the first big visible impact of AI will affect transport logistics when the first self-driving trucks take to the highways. This doesn’t mean that the drivers will become obsolete as a result. On the contrary, the development provides an extraordinary opportunity to make their role even more diverse in future. Instead of maintaining a steady speed of 90 km/h on the highways, they can now take care of administrative tasks and control the AI during the drive. The industry will also benefit overall, because the AI algorithms will ensure optimal capacity utilization of the trucks, prevent empty runs, and guarantee transparent prices for the customers. Drivers will take fewer breaks, further reducing costs. It will allow more journeys to be made at night, which will improve the traffic flow and help to ease congestion on the roads at peak times of the day. Improved management will mean that traffic jams can be better avoided in future, something from which all drivers will ultimately benefit.
AI ensures reliable forecasts in the warehouse
Yet it is not just transport logistics that will be affected by AI. Groundbreaking innovations will also find their way into the warehouse with artificial intelligence. Until now, processes have been relatively rigidly organized even in modern warehouses with automated retrieval systems, storage lifts and shuttles, despite all of the software used. Even though there are more and more automated guided vehicles (AGVs) that can independently make their way around the warehouse with their loads, the entire intralogistics process chain could be revolutionized through the use of AI. This is necessary, too, because ever faster and more flexible systems are required to manage the increasing demands driven by the steadily growing e-commerce sector. This is where AI comes into play, because it uses the masses of available data to analyze the processes and then looks for ways of optimally organizing them.
How AI works
- All information and current situations are registered in the AI database
- Incredible amounts of real-time information are accessed extremely quickly via integrated filters
- This information is categorized by the company’s own (programmed) criteria
- Information is no longer identified and analyzed on the basis of its content, but on the basis of its patterns
- AI uses the database to organize responses and decide on what action to take
- The more new data flows in, the more the system “learns” (deep learning)
One of the main tasks of AI in the area of intralogistics will be to predict with as much precision as possible the likelihood of particular events happening. By analyzing ordering behavior, the AI system anticipates future purchases, which leads to a faster shipping process. As a result, incoming customer orders are picked and made ready for shipping before the order has even been received. Amazon has been experimenting for years on refining this procedure, which is in great demand in the age of same-day delivery when orders have to be delivered to the customer on time. Future fluctuations in demand should also be more predictable and the storage systems will be prepared accordingly to deal with rising or dropping levels.
AI also supports predictive maintenance with forecasts on the service life and optimal service intervals of machinery or unit parts, which in turn has a positive impact on productivity in the warehouse. That’s because it allows repairs or the replacement of parts to be planned at an early stage and organized in a way that doesn’t hamper the regular storage and retrieval processes. As a consequence, tasks that previously led to the shutting down of entire systems during the day shift can in future be performed within a precisely defined time slot when warehouse activity is low.
In future, AI will mean that systems are less programmed and instead increasingly trained to keep getting better at learning from data and their behavior. Anyone who now thinks that there will soon no longer be a place for human beings in the warehouse can rest assured, because the systems will still have to be monitored despite all of the intelligence. The technology hasn’t yet reached the stage where warehouses can be managed fully automatically, because robots, for example, are not yet fully capable of gripping different kinds of goods. It is nonetheless certain that AI will play a major role in the area of intralogistics. The key question is when exactly it will be in a position to do that. The twenty years predicted by Bill Gates may even appear to be a little too long in view of the rapid technological progress being made.