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Tech

Ask An Expert: Could AI Improve Your Fleet?

What is AI, and how can it impact your business? We ask Dr Toby Walsh.

By Shell on Oct. 12, 2021

Many fleet organisations and fleet-management software companies believe Artificial Intelligence (AI) is essential for the future of transportation and smart management. Bringing the digital world and the physical world together may sound like a sci-fi fantasy, but what is AI, and how exactly can it bring tangible benefits to fleet management?

Well, in essence, it’s not as intimidating or tech heavy as it sounds. Using AI can be as simple as grabbing some Apple Tags, which allow you to track the location of your keys – or anything they’re attached to, such as luggage, or your dog’s collar – via your smartphone app. Or using Google Maps, or fleet-management software tools.

We speak with Dr Toby Walsh, a Laureate Fellow and Professor of Artificial Intelligence at the University of New South Wales, on how AI can help shape your business today and into the future.

Q: Dr Walsh, it sounds expensive and as if robots are coming to replace humans, but what is Artificial Intelligence?

A: “It’s a tough one – we don’t have a very good definition for ‘intelligence’, so it’s not surprising that we don’t have a very good one for Artificial Intelligence – but I think most of my colleagues would agree it’s trying to get computers to do things that, when humans do them, we say it requires intelligence. That’s typically perceiving the world, so seeing the world or hearing the world, reasoning about that world, making plans, making decisions and then acting in the world.”

Q: What about Machine Learning; is this part of Artificial Intelligence

A: “Machine Learning is a sub-field of AI. Our intelligence isn’t just about the things we’ve learnt, although a significant component of our intelligence is things that we’ve learnt: we weren’t born able to read, write or do many things – we learnt those things. Similarly, machines are being taught to learn the smart things that they do.”

Q: When did AI start – is it recent?

A: “AI didn’t really kick off until we had computers, so it didn’t really start until the 1950s because we didn’t have a device to implement it on. Although people have been thinking about these ideas since the Ancient Greeks, the invention of logic was a way of trying to formalise thought, so you can see that some of the ideas that have evolved into AI go back to thinkers like Aristotle, through people like Leibnitz and George Ball all the way up to Alan Turing, who wrote what was probably the first scientific paper about computers. Interestingly, Alan Turing was both the person who invented computers as well as the inventor of Artificial Intelligence.”

Q: So what kind of things use AI that we might see every day?

A: “The funny thing about AI is it’s already a somewhat invisible part of our lives. I mean every time you’re getting a movie recommendation from Netflix, or Amazon is recommending a book or product to buy, Siri is understanding what you say, or even Google Maps is giving you directions, that’s Artificial Intelligence that’s helping do that.
It’s hard to think of a part of our life that it’s not going to touch. Whether it be from transportation (we’re going to have self-driving cars, self-driving trucks); to the office (we’re increasingly seeing many of the activities that we used to do in the office being automated or semi-automated); to the factory (our factories, not just our car factories, our warehouses and many other factories are starting to become full of robots); to our hospitals (increasingly robots are being used there as well as intelligent aids); to plays – you know, increasingly AI is being used to generate interesting content.
As an example, some friends of mine wrote the first AI song that won an AI Eurovision-type song contest last year.”

Q: How can AI be used to help decision-making for fleets, for example?

A: “Increasingly it will be used in those sorts of settings to help us to look at data sets that are too large for human eyes, or spot patterns that are too subtle for human eyes to see, and allow us to amplify what we can do. Humans are tool users, we’ve always used tools to amplify our abilities, and AI is going to be just another tool that allows us to amplify not our muscles, but our brains. The data collection and interpretation of AI offers significant advantages for fleet managers in identifying patterns and trends, providing insights and making decisions based on this information for faster, more effective management. According to McKinsey Research, combining the digital and physical worlds using AI and the Internet of Things (IoT) could generate US$11.1 trillion a year in economic value as soon as 2025, with $0.2-0.7 trillion of that in vehicle-management and logistics areas. You don’t have to wait for it because it’s already part of your daily life.”

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