As computers become smarter, they are able to simulate elements of human thinking. Robots are doing much of the work done by people in factories and in the workplace.
WHEN asked what artificial intelligence (AI) is, a wit pointed to his wife. Increasingly, industrial robots are taking over the jobs of human workers. In December 2016, the Robotics Application Centre of Excellence announced that it will train over 2,000 workers to operate and implement automated production systems in the next two years. The centre is a collaboration between the Nanyang Technological University and precision engineering company PBA Group.
AI has progressed a long way since R2-D2. There is growing competition in the market for AI-powered smart devices that act as personal assistants. Leading the pack is Amazon’s Echo, a voice-activated smart speaker powered by Alexa, who speaks like an efficient secretary. There is also the Google Home, powered by the Google Assistant. A China version named DingDong can speak Mandarin or Cantonese. These assistants can perform tasks ranging from answering questions about the weather to current affairs to calling for an Uber cab.
Researchers at MIT Technology Review define artificial intelligence as “an evolving constellation of technologies that enable computers to simulate elements of human thinking—learning and reasoning among them. Regular improvements in Google’s search algorithm, for example, come from machine learning, a type of AI that programs systems to learn from data, find patterns in it, and make predictions about it. The same technology has been pivotal to voice and image recognition as well as advances in self-driving cars. Integral to many recent improvements in the field is a form of machine learning called deep learning. Loosely modelled on the way neurons and synapses in the brain change as they are exposed to new input, it has been used independently or in combination with other AI approaches to help machines tackle tricky tasks and exhibit something resembling intuition, in some cases performing tasks better than humans”.
A report released on 14 November 2016 by MIT Technology Review, “Asia’s AI Agenda”, finds that Asia’s economies are set to benefit significantly from the rise of artificial intelligence, but many believe the adoption of AI and robotics will result in substantial job losses in Asia over the next five years.
According to the report, technology advancements will improve business competitiveness, but have lesser benefits for those in the financial industry, as automated processes and machine-based transactions are likely to destroy value in that sector. While most human resource directors believe that the adoption of AI and robotics will result in substantial job losses in Asia over the next five years, human resource (HR) professionals also see opportunity for their own function to expand and oversee the management of both human and machine productivity.
The rise of artificial intelligence will create a great shift in the processes that senior managers use to tackle talent, growth, and productivity across nearly every industry sector. Asian businesses stand to leverage AI’s rise faster, owing to the virtuous cycle created by Asia’s technology investments and the organic growth of big data.
"The Asian academic scene is advancing quickly—what's more, entrepreneurs are returning from big companies in the United States to create their own domestic ventures," said Mr Will Knight, senior AI editor at MIT Technology Review.
Executives in the C-suite surveyed and AI industry experts interviewed for Asia’s AI Agenda are largely aligned in the belief that AI and robotics will have a great impact on every industry, positively, and simultaneously. Rising investment in process automation in Asian manufacturing tends to focus much of the industry’s attention, given that China, South Korea, and Japan purchased nearly half the world’s total output of articulated robots in 2015.
Survey respondents largely felt that most other sectors, from retail to logistics, would benefit equally from AI technology. AI industry executives believe that big data’s growth in Asia will allow autonomous and intelligent applications to proliferate across almost all industries in the region.
But according to the report, while decision-makers at Asian-based firms are convinced of AI’s benefits, most have not yet committed resources to ride on these beliefs. In order to capitalise on today’s AI and automation trends, Asian business leaders will have to adopt an attitude of extreme openness. This should manifest through a willingness to collaborate in data analytics projects and to share best practices and insight resulting from their own process automation efforts. Moreover, while these technologies may have a powerful impact on an individual firm’s competitiveness, the search for competitive advantage cannot blind business leaders to the greater benefits of collaboration. In much the same way, competitive AI developers themselves are increasingly pooling resources to accelerate their collective progress.
In addition to compiling senior executives’ views about AI’s impact on the Asian business environment, MIT Technology Review researchers surveyed 24 senior human resource executives in Asia—HR directors, recruiting consultants, and talent acquisition heads—to understand their views on AI’s potential to disrupt talent management.
The results revealed an assumption that tremendous change is imminent in the human resources profession: about 70 per cent of respondents feel that AI and robotics will lead to substantial job losses in Asia over the next five years, underscoring a long-standing anxiety that many in Asia feel when considering the impact of new technologies.
In the Asia-Pacific region, investment in robotics and related services are expected to double from US$60 billion to more than US$133 billion by 2020. These figures were released in IDC’s “Worldwide Commercial Robotics Spending Guide”. The Asia-Pacific region is the fastest growing robotics market globally because of China, South Korea, and Japan.
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