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robot-464

Are you a future shaper?

John Kersey, Health & Safety Manager, ISS UK reviews how we can introduce change and innovation to bring an appreciable difference to the way we work

“I've just picked up a fault in the AE35 unit. It's going to go 100% failure in 72 hours.”

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As a 13 year old seeing the Stanley Kubrick film “2001: A Space Odyssey” with my father when it first came out; I remembered this was my first exposure to the idea of artificial intelligence - predictive maintenance in particular. The infamous HAL (Heuristic ALgorithmic) 9000 series computer foresees a future failure in the AE35 component in the parabolic communications antenna. To a teenager at that time you would have wondered how the computer would have even known that! The director Stanley Kubrick and the Science Fiction writer Arthur C Clarke did a lot of research looking at the future trends from the world of the 1960’s into the 21st Century. In a sense they were future shapers by influencing our thoughts about what the future would be like.

Nowadays this technique is not just restricted to interplanetary spaceships. Travellers on the Docklands Light Railway in London may not even realise that there is this ability to predict potential failures in its escalators and lifts. They are essential to maintaining the service and without this the station would need to close if the access machinery was out of order. There are now many silent applications of AI that many people do not realise are there; for example cancer tumours in biopsy samples are now identified using AI based pattern recognition which speeds up the process and saves skilled technicians spending hours looking down microscopes. The things that are happening now that we find amazing will be thought quite ordinary by future generations in the same way that we take GPS navigation for granted.  
 
South Quay DLR escalator – AI enabled

Creative-Commons-canary-wharf-station-464
Many now see we are coming into a new period of human development – Industry 4.0 or the fourth phase in the industrial revolution. These phases are:

  • Industry 1.0 – use of steam as motive power
  • Industry 2.0 – division of labour in manufacture
  • Industry 3.0 – computer data processing
  • Industry 4.0 – use of cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things, cloud and cognitive computing

What the future holds (PS no-one really knows!)

The media in all forms are full of speculation on what these changes may mean for us as individuals and our future society. Even the pundits are being continually wrong footed – one very well respected guru in a book in 2014 predicted AI would result in a computer defeating the highest ranking human champion in the game of Go in about a decade (2024). In fact the Google AlphaGo programme defeated the reigning champion Lee-Se Dol within 2 years (2016)! The home virtual assistant such as the popular Amazon Alexa first came on to the market with Siri installed on the Apple iPhone 4S in 2011. So in a mere 7 years we have seen these become very accessible in the home market. I’m seeing developments coming along on three fronts:

  1. invention of more powerful algorithms and data science techniques which will make processing more efficient
  2. developers finding more “real world” applications or use cases for these
  3. more powerful hardware devices such as the IBM Minsky server which is making data hungry applications such as pattern recognition much faster to run (one petroleum reservoir drilling application that previously used to take 20 hours can now be done in 92 minutes!).

What is a future shaper?

Many people see the future as something they have no control over – “what will be will be”. The future is ruled by the past. Others see the future as a bright new possibility. So we can either be shaped by the future (“future’s victim”), or we can adapt to it (“go with the flow”) or influence or shape the future – a future shaper. A future shaper is a person, or a device or a technique that brings on appreciable change. So in a sense we all can be future shapers if we choose to be.

So faced with the ever increasing technological challenge of Industry 4.0 how can we respond as individuals? One model I really love are the characters in the film “Hidden Figures”.  For those not familiar with the movie it concerns the real life tale of three black female mathematicians working on the NASA space programme in the 1960’s facing different forms of discrimination. 

Dorothy_Vaughan-435Although the story concerns the journey of the central character Katherine Johnson and her emancipation and development there is a strong sub-plot concerning the response to technological change. I found myself drawn to the character Dorothy Vaughn (played by Octavia Spencer), who is a “computer” - the term for humans that did calculations in those days. She correctly foresees the job she does will face replacement by electronic systems. She responds by adapting and teaching herself the FORTRAN programming language from a “borrowed” library book. Not only does she acquire the skill but she also teaches this to her team – they re-skill, prove their competence and win over the sceptical ruling experts. 

Creative-commons-IBM-photo-464What will be our road map into Industry 4.0?

Well the simple answer is it is up to the organisations and people to take a hard look at their passions, abilities and access to opportunity and decide how they face the future. Certainly it will an exciting one and our children and children’s children will live in a very different world. 













Images:


Computer: http://www.photosforclass.com/search/ibm%20computer/5
DLR: http://www.photosforwork.com/search?text=escalators+DLR
Dorothy Vaughn: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dorothy_Vaughan.jpg

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...about innovation in health and safety

John Kersey, Health & Safety Manager, ISS UK

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