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Industry Updates

People, Not Robots, Are Your Best Practice When It Comes to AI

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It’s easy to forget how much we depend on artificial intelligence in our day-to-day lives. For example, many of us rely on navigation systems to tell us where we need to go, and the use of facial- and speech-recognition technology is common. Hey, Siri!

AI is a worldwide phenomenon. Many of China’s manufacturers utilize robotic technology that is more advanced than that of the United States, and developing continents like Africa report high rates of smartphone usage.

But just as we rely on AI technology to go about our day and improve our productivity, the technology also depends on us to be useful. Business leaders in particular should remember that while intelligent, AI is not self-sufficient.

As the CEO of an international packaging logistics company, I know firsthand the values of AI technology when combined with skilled labor. Our industry is manufacturing-focused and much of our workflow is automated – particularly on the production side.

There isn’t one facet of my business in which I haven’t implemented some form of AI. It allows us to work highly efficiently, with a level of transparency and accuracy that we could not have dreamed of 20 or 30 years ago. And it should come as no surprise that AI is a hot commodity in today’s economy. It is utilized in all fields, ranging from healthcare to law and finance.

Great Potential

A recent report on the rise of artificial intelligence and machine learning released by Protiviti – a global consulting firm specializing in tech analysis – found that companies of various sizes and industries invested an average of $36 million in AI technology last fiscal year. The average amount of investment varied based on company size. Midsize companies – worth $500 million to $1 billion – spent about $600,000 on AI technology, while larger companies worth over $50 billion invested as much as $92 million.

The report found that only 16 percent of businesses surveyed gained significant value from AI implementation, but this figure is expected to triple within two years – primarily because of the potential AI holds to help companies increase productivity, performance, shareholder value and business development.

While AI might be on the rise, we are obviously not living in a world run by robots. In the end, no software can replace human intuition. While a machine can “learn” an action or function, it cannot acquire human instinct to the level needed to render us real humans obsolete. The success of my company’s entire workflow, for instance, can hinge on one person’s ability to lift a shipment with a crane and decide where to place it on a vessel. We can’t depend on artificial intelligence to do that just yet.

Rather than replace human intelligence, AI supports and supplements it – something business leaders are coming to terms with.

Take Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who recently admitted that excessive use of automated processes in his factories was a mistake. After months of manufacturing issues and delays related to the mass production of the Model 3, the company’s first mid-priced vehicle, Musk admitted that Tesla’s robot-driven assembly line was impractical. The robots could not handle the amount of product they needed to produce, and production slowed.

Once Musk brought humans back into the picture, however, he was able to achieve enormous success and is now optimistic for the future of the car’s production. In an ideal world, we would see across all industries a balance of sophisticated talent and high-level technology – working in tandem to create an excellent product. Unfortunately, skilled talent is hard to come by nowadays, and technology is partly to blame.

For example, in the packaging industry, becoming a pro at plastic film extrusion once required on-the-job experience and a highly advanced skill set, much like mastering an instrument. Technicians would train on how to set up and fine-tune the equipment, and their ability to do so was what made the difference between a good product and a bad one. Today, this is almost all done via a chip and software. While this has allowed us to be more consistent in our product, it has also taken the individuality – and the talent – out of the process altogether.

People are not as inclined to pursue jobs in manufacturing or production as they were years ago, and this is due in part to the recent, yet widespread myth that technology has rendered these individuals obsolete.

I feel it is important, therefore, for business leaders utilizing AI to recognize and remember this: AI is not valuable without human input. Achieving a balance between the two can help ensure success in the long run. To quote Elon Musk, “Humans are underrated.”

Peter Horwitz is Founder and CEO of Tiger Packaging, a U.S.-based distribution and logistics company focused on large-volume food service disposables, paper and packaging products and janitorial/sanitary items. Tiger has offices in Florida, Colorado and Shanghai.