We hear the terms artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning a lot these days. But let’s be honest, how many people really understand what they mean? Seeing as AI and machine learning are increasingly being used in association with the trucking industry, I feel it’s time we all had a crash course on the subject.
I’ll start with machine learning – a subset of AI. It is the process of teaching computers to learn in the way humans learn, or to learn by experience. Humans use instinct to learn, but for a computer, learning is done through data. The idea is that the more data a computer has access to, the better it can determine how to react in ‘smart’ ways (i.e. react as a human would to certain situations). Humans can program computers to behave in certain ways, but the idea of AI is that they are not explicitly programmed.
As if things weren’t confusing enough, the definition of AI seems to evolve as the technology does. AI is more about ‘intelligent agents’. Please, bear with me here… this refers to when a machine mimics something associated with the human mind, such as problem solving.
Within trucking, machine learning is the technology behind autonomous driving and co-joined dash cams (that detect whether a driver is wearing a seat belt, comes to a complete stop at traffic lights or runs a red light, for example).
‘Simple’ forms of AI are behind time-of-delivery, navigation and routing software.
The wave of ‘Uber for trucking’ technologies also use AI. Machine learning processes and algorithms allow shippers to book a truck nationwide and then identify the truck that is best located to transport a particular load. In time, we’ll see this technology also playing a part in pricing and sourcing.
Using AI allows the road freight transport system to use accurate prediction methods to forecast volume and advance decision-making tools. It can also help with traffic management, allowing more streamlined traffic patterns, and a significant reduction in congestion (music to everyone’s ears!). We are already seeing smarter traffic light algorithms and real-time tracking controlling traffic patterns more effectively.
Away from the tech side of things, most of us in the industry are concerned about what it means for jobs. With all the hype surrounding self-driving Ubers and Tesla’s semi-autonomous trucks, it’s hard to know what the future holds.
However, one thing is for certain: many people agree that where AI is concerned, we should proceed with caution. Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have both warned about the potential danger of irresponsible AI use.
And most experts agree, AI in the form of self-driving vehicles won’t really start impacting the industry for at least another ten years. I really do hope we are not simply postponing the inevitable.
Stephen Hawking said: “Unless we learn how to prepare for, and avoid, the potential risks, AI could be the worst event in the history of our civilization.”
I don’t know many people who would argue with Hawking. Let’s just hope the world takes heed.
What do you think? Do the benefits of AI outweigh the negatives?