Lessons from autonomous cars could drive your business


Among the more dramatic aspects of the Digital Transformation most surely be the prospect of driverless cars. It truly feels like science fiction becoming reality. It is useful to examine this phenomena as it’s emerging to see the lessons about AI that we can learn and apply to business transformations elsewhere.

LittleBlogAuthorGraphic  David Hodgson, April 10, 2016

As the prospect of the mass deployment of driverless cars comes careening towards us, are there lessons about AI that you could learn to get a competitive edge for your business? Like many other applications of AI, autonomous vehicles have taken longer to arrive than expected, and longer than predicted even a few years ago. But make no mistake, the robots are coming, and all that we have imagined about AI will probably pale into comparison with the reality we will experience when it’s widely adopted.

It seems like every car manufacturer now has plans to introduce driverless vehicles and there is continued growth in the use of software to transform the experience. Making the in-car experience a connected one is a natural extension of our lives now, and a recent Mckinsey report showed that consumers are growing in their willingness to pay more for this.

What could be

The developments and imminent delivery of highly connected, self-driving cars is very exciting to those who love technology and I am really looking forward to buying one! However, what is perhaps more interesting are the wide-ranging follow on developments and ramifications that go way broader than our immediate riding experience.

Traffic lights will eventually disappear, as will driving licenses, both being redundant. Denser parking will mean more available space, as computers become adapt at squeezing vehicles in and organizing them for access.  There will be no more tickets, traffic courts and a reduced police presence on roads. Traffic policies for special events can be piped to cars in the area programmatically and dynamically adjusted, reducing or eliminating frustrating backups.

Signposts will no longer needed although of course map data will be more important, but the cars could be the cartographers. Similarly the cars could monitor the state of repair  of roads and dispatch an autonomous truck with a mending crew of swarm bots and supplies to fix potholes. Damage from road usage might be reduced through coordination to vary the precise paths by slight offsets for more even surface wear.

Certainly there will be improved flow and throughput through reduced “noise” and disruptive movement. Connectedness could create convoys of cars going to similar destinations with individuals peeling off and joining as needed.

With reduced accidents, hospital and ER space will be freed up and there will be massive disruption to the insurance industry meaning it will probably be at the forefront of resisting adoption!  For sure there will be massive disruption to jobs wherever it is discovered that AI based robotic systems replace humans. One of the first might be the trucking industry where driverless transport convoys are already being tested in Europe.

The general point here is that the AI required to drive cars, drives a much broader impact to business and society than the specific solution area itself. The same thing will be true for changes that AI makes to your business.

The bigger picture and what it means to you

Seen in this bigger context, autonomous cars become an instructive use case of the disruptive influence of AI on the business processes for an industry and connected markets. Whether or not your business will be impacted by driverless cares, you should get ahead of how AI can be leveraged in your industry. It might be a wave that you can ride to survive and surf over your dying competitors that ignore it.

The term “cognitive business” describes a company instrumented with systems that understand data and can realize new insights on their own. This is not as far fetched as it sounds and we can see the dawning of the possibilities with IBM’s offerings that open up Watson as a cloud service through APIs.

In this scenario computers do the more significant things faster, better and more reliably than people. Not just math and report creation, as they have done traditionally, but “thinking”, predicting and decision making.  Eventually it leads to software that maintains and modifies its algorithms to better solve problems and solve new problems.

Imagine a cognitive supply chain that can quickly adapt to real-time changes in demand, differentiate between local and national trends, and accurately predict  the impact of upcoming events. Both know like social, sporting and weather events but also hidden pattern events perhaps created by competitor activity, or changes in consumer preferences. It could balance activity between on-line and bricks and mortar store fronts. It could optimize manufacturing, distribution and stock levels. And of course, given our theme, it could interact with fleets of autonomous distribution and delivery vehicles.

To achieve this and other scenarios, the AI will be integrated with huge amounts of “Big Data” but will also leverage human knowledge. Some of the most powerful solutions will be the interactions of experts with AI systems.  We have seen this already in the advanced weaponry of fighter planes and drone systems.  The medical world holds great promise for new solutions that combine expertise in this way too. There is no reason to think that advanced business systems will not be implemented in the same way.

You control your future

All this is future right now, but the sooner you get started in preparing yourself, the more likely you are to be a winner. This means experimenting with advanced analytics now, finding new uses for existing data and discovering new sources of data. And while you do that, simultaneously starting to grasp the security and compliance aspects of gathering and processing all this existing and new data in new ways.

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, but assuming that your strategy planning has not been that prescient, then there is no time like the present to start planning for the future.


Image credit: CNN

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