Artificial Intelligence trends manufacturers need to be aware of

Microsoft UK's technology expert, Michael Wignall, reveals what Artificial Intelligence is and the past, present and future breakthroughs that have led to dramatic improvements in speed, accuracy and productivity.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has already made significant inroads into the manufacturing sector – from smart assembly robots and intelligent machine diagnostic tools, to automated warehousing, and a host of software solutions that assist in delivery logistics, inventory optimisation, and supply chain management.

Vast sets of data can now be analysed and acted upon within minutes, meaning the lengthy, complex, process-driven tasks that once took hours can now be performed almost instantaneously. This is only going to become more important should the projections surrounding future data generation prove accurate:

Microsoft IDS Keynote - Data Being Collected by 2020

For manufacturers, AI is changing every aspect of the industry—from intelligent supply chains, to product-as-a-service offerings, to factories of the future—and providing the catalyst for new business models, products, services and experiences.

So, what exactly is Artificial Intelligence and what are the trends that business’ need to be aware of?

Michael Wignall, general manager for Microsoft Azure at Microsoft UK, took to the stage at this year’s lively Industrial Data Summit to explain more.

For Wignall, AI simply means amplifying human ingenuity with intelligent technology to make innovation faster and more accessible:

Reasoning learn and form conclusions with imperfect data

Understanding interpret meaning of data including text, voice, images

Interacting interact with people in natural ways

The underlying concepts and mathematical principles of AI have been around for well over half a century. However, it’s only recently that both technology and society has reached a tipping point.

Artificial Intelligence Trends - Microsoft IDS Keynote - Artificial Intelligence Machine Learning Deep Learning Timeline

The combination of computer data storage, big data and powerful smart algorithms has meant that AI capability has recently reached human parity in activities such as voice translation, image recognition and speech recognition.

AI breakthroughs:

2016 – Object recognition, human parity

2017 – Speech recognition, human parity

Jan 2018 – Machine reading comprehension, human parity

March 2018 – Machine translation, human parity

Artificial Intelligence Trends - Microsoft IDS Keynote - Rise of Artificial Intelligence, why now?

Microsoft’s research shows that those already on the AI journey are delivering a 5% improvement on factors like productivity, performance and business outcomes compared to those that are not. That’s a powerful business case.

Furthermore, we’re just at the beginning of the AI journey; that 5% performance boost will start to accelerate quickly, noted Wignall.

“Today, machines are as good as if not better than humans are. That won’t be the case tomorrow. Machines are constantly improving, becoming faster and more capable. AI is only as dumb as it is today because it is always learning.”

But for Wignall, AI and technology don’t just mean automating what you already do today, what can’t you do or couldn’t?; “It’s about making the impossible possible.”

Regardless of what the future holds, Wignall highlighted the importance of developing and deploying AI systems in a responsible manner. To that end, Microsoft has created a framework of values that it believes artificial intelligence needs to respect:

Artificial Intelligence Trends - Microsoft - Industrial Data Summit 2019 - Responsible AI to augment human ingenuity

Jabil provides advanced manufacturing solutions that require visual inspection of components on production lines. Their pilot with Azure Machine Learning and Project Brainwave promises dramatic improvements in speed and accuracy, reducing workload and improving focus for human operators: