When discussing artificial intelligence (AI), most people picture autonomous robots thinking and performing tasks as if they were humans. We’ve seen artificial intelligence (AI) depicted as robots in movies and television shows for decades. If you grew up in the 1990’s, you’ve probably seen an episode of the Jetsons and are familiar with the idea that a robot can become part of the family.
While it would be nice to have a robot do the dishes, laundry, and cook meals, our technology isn’t there yet. At least, it’s not affordable for the average household. That doesn’t mean AI technology has yet to benefit society. Here are some additional ways AI benefits society as a whole:
- Industrial farming
In October 2018, Iron Ox launched the first autonomous robot farm in America. The company claims the AI-powered farm can “grow 30 times more produce than traditional farms” thanks to a combination of AI software, soilless hydroponic systems, and careful use of space. Iron Ox is on a mission to create solutions to some of the biggest challenges faced by the agricultural industry.
How autonomous robot farming works
Produce is planted in individual pots grouped together in 4’x8’ grow modules, weighing 800 pounds each. A 1,000-pound AI-powered robot does all the hard work, moving around the farm, lifting and transporting 800-pound grow modules to a special area for processing.
An autonomous robot arm, similar to what’s used in factories, takes care of the harvesting. The arm is able to tell the difference between the plant and the pot, and is programmed to grab only the pot. The arm is equipped with two cameras and can identify diseases, pests, and any other abnormalities.
Both robots report data to a cloud-based application, and that software tells them when to act. In this sense, the robot isn’t completely autonomous, but it’s certainly halfway there.
- Military intelligence
Not long ago, it was considered a technological advancement to shoot copper nails into encroaching trees, vines, and bushes to cause defoliation. Had this technology been discovered during the Vietnam war, we wouldn’t have seen so much devastation from Agent Orange while attempting to defoliate Vietnamese forests for better visibility. Today, that same task can be accomplished by AI robots, keeping military personnel out of harm’s way.
Programming robots to shoot copper nails into trees is useful, but there are far more practical applications for AI in the military.
Billions of dollars have been invested in furthering this technology for military use. For instance, there are real-world military applications for data fusion and machine learning that extend beyond the idea of robots. Advancements in AI allow autonomous technologies to decipher between friend and foe, and identify abnormal patterns in complex environments. This technology is life or death to the people who rely on time-sensitive data to provide knowledge in the midst of a war.
The military has been using AI and machine learning technologies for decades. For example, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are common, but the defense industry has yet to announce testing the use of autonomous systems to fire weapons. Perhaps that’s better for now, at least until the technology can be tested safely.
Twenty years ago, the idea of getting in a self-driving car was simply a cool idea. Now that it’s a reality, people aren’t entirely sure they want to get in and buckle up. Perhaps those people don’t realize airplanes have been capable of flying on their own for decades, and they’ve probably been on many self-flying flights.
It’s impossible to eliminate all risks on the road, but self-driving cars could be the future of making our roads safer. Early on, there were several major reports of self-driving cars causing accidents, injuries, and even some fatalities. For this reason, autonomous vehicles were not allowed to be tested on the road without a human driver who could take over when necessary.
Today, autonomous vehicle technology is smarter. Google’s Waymo autonomous vehicles, for example, are more advanced than other autonomous vehicles, and are now roaming the streets without a safety driver behind the wheel.
We’ll probably see commercially available self-driving cars in this generation, but like any new product to hit the market, it will take a while for the cost to come down.
AI technology becomes more useful as it evolves
We may not see a Rosie the Robot in every home just yet, but as software developers improve the process of machine learning that AI-powered machines rely on, we’re going to see more practical uses for AI emerge.