Assembly robots that build things on their own without having to be programmed for it. Self-optimizing manufacturing lines in factories. Trains or wind turbines that request maintenance work on the basis of operating data and artificial intelligence (AI), which can predict their behavior better than the engineers who developed and built them. Roland Busch, Siemens AG Chief Technology Officer, explains why there is no question that the ascendancy of AI will further change the world of work.
by Roland Busch
This development is an opportunity if we come up with ideas for shaping it in a positive way and turning AI into a job engine. There is no question that the ascendancy of AI will further change the world of work. Leading market research institutions are unanimous in their estimation that up to 50 percent of most activities can be automated. That means machines can perform these activities and actually do them better and faster than humans. But that also means that once freed from these menial tasks, we have more time to assess the results so achieved, advise customers or patients or recognize and foster the abilities of our employees.
But the fear-ridden debate of “man vs. machine” is misguided. Those who look closely can already detect a different development. Indeed, the change has already begun. Today German industrial enterprises are already striving to lure away each other’s talents, those who combine the understanding of what had originally been separate disciplines: Data scientists who also possess knowledge of physics or engineering, for example. Only they are capable of transferring AI-generated data about a train, for example, to the real world. To take one example, a train operator receives a direct instruction to act regarding which part of which train car needs to be replaced by what time. This instruction is the result of predictive maintenance, risk analysis and knowledge about the availability of a replacement part and even about the legal conditions of the country in which the train is located. Only human beings have the ability to transfer the underlying insights from the digital world to the real world.
For this reason, we are and always will be reliant on skilled manual labor, when performed on the highest level. In the production and maintenance of locomotives in our factory in Allach, mechanics and welders perform high-precision work to one tenth of a millimeter. We can only guarantee the availability of trains when this work is performed by professionals.
Three parallel developments are underway now: New jobs are being created, others are less needed, others are changing.
Three parallel developments are underway now: New jobs are being created, others are less needed, others are changing. In order for the net effect of using AI to be positive, commercial enterprises – including large corporations, small to medium-sized businesses and even tradesmen – must be able to employ AI broadly. I am talking here about industrial AI, meaning the combination of AI with domain knowledge. Our goal is the “digital companion”that will act as a kind of intelligence-booster for humans. This kind of AI that supports humans must be broadly available. However, we must not only invest in research and development, but also in training. But these skills must also be promoted in preschools, elementary schools, high schools and universities.
For the current industrial revolution to proceed for the benefit of industrialized nations like Germany, industrial enterprises, government officials, scientists and social partners together must build initiatives similar to Germany’s successful Industrie 4.0 initiative. Already an established term today around the world, Industrie 4.0 will be upgraded by artificial intelligence because this technology will be found in everything in the future, including IT, production, the operation of industrial plants, the products themselves and services. Industrial AI can take Industrie 4.0 to the next level. It can preserve the industrial strength of countries like Germany, unlike AI for the consumer goods industry, which is mainly dominated by US and Chinese companies today.
In the small-minded, fear-ridden debate about AI, I think one aspect in particular has gotten short shrift: AI will be critical to the further development of gross domestic product (GDP). The average worldwide growth of 3.5 percent per year is bound to end in the foreseeable future due to demographic trends. Our economies must be transformed. We can do this successfully with the help of AI technologies and a working populace whose activity is not primarily labor-intensive, but skill-intensive, creating value on the basis of qualifications and productivity.
Countries or companies who wish to succeed in today’s world must make their economies fit for the future. Leading market researchers are unanimous in their estimation that AI technology – correctly and consistently deployed – has the potential to increase the gross domestic product of economies like Germany’s. We have successfully begun the digital transformation with Industrie 4.0. With industrial AI, we can now take it to a completely new level.
Picture credits: from above: 1. Getty Images, 4. Getty Images
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