The next revolution in automation is much hyped, Industrie 4.0 as the Europeans refer to it. What is it really? The application of relatively unlimited computing power to the existing set of problems we already deal with. Making stuff, like cars, beer, toothbrushes, whatever. So it’s the same problem but we have a new set of tools. Tools like artificial intelligence.
What does that mean? Real world applications of artificial intelligence involve creating programs that mimics human approaches to problems. The science fiction type of artificial intelligence is fiction that posits the ability of programming to exceed the limits of the programmer. Not likely.
One simple, yet important aspect of artificial intelligence is generating algorithms that define what kind of data is meaningful versus data that is meaningless. This is a giant issue in the scheme of taking “big data” and making something useful out of it. The ‘intelligence’ aspect is the programming that implements human decision making and rules based on experience and knowledge of what proper system operation is. So it looks just as if a human was working the control system information and pre-digesting the data. EXACTLY!
What we should expect to see is a little like the Maker movement. People will be coming up with all sorts of new applications of the technology that will provide useful information to users. All based on modeling human knowledge and insight. Which is exactly how AI got its start. One of the first artificial intelligence programs was a software application that helped perform complex diagnostics of GE Locomotive engines.
The next wave in AI for the factory floor will be the result of embedding compute power in wide array of sensors and data streams. The low cost of hardware and the value of acquiring pre-conditioned data for decision making will make these systems very compelling. Much will be focused on preventive maintenance and optimization of equipment throughout all sectors where controls are used; manufacturing, energy production, residential and commercial real estate management, even health services.
And that’s just the beginning.