AI in Manufacturing: Nascent, But on a Fast Track

From National Association of Manufacturers, www.manufacturingleadershipcouncil.com, By

Opinions about the impact of artificial intelligence today range from the apocalyptic to the miraculous. Media darling Elon Musk of Tesla, for example, thinks AI is an “existential threat” to human civilization. Oracle CEO Mark Hurd believes a battle between the United States and China for “AI supremacy” will have important consequences for the global economy. And Ginny Rometty, IBM’s CEO, is convinced that AI has the power to transform industries in positive ways.

Whatever your view of AI, a term coined in 1955 by the computer scientist John McCarthy, the technology is at the forefront of discussions throughout society today, leading a debate about the future of work, jobs, and even what it means to be human. And as the manufacturing industry transitions to the digital era, AI is being viewed as central to leveraging the vast amounts of data that factories and plants will generate to do everything from improving operational efficiency to creating new, competitive advantages.

“Industrial AI can give the Fourth Industrial Revolution a huge boost and take Industrie 4.0 and similar initiatives to the next level,” said Roland Busch, Chief Operating Officer, CTO, and Member of the Managing Board of Siemens AG, in an article posted on the World Economic Forum’s website in January.

In an attempt to separate the hype from the reality of AI, and to take the measure of where AI and its cousin machine learning stand in manufacturing today, the Manufacturing Leadership Council undertook its first ever survey on manufacturers’ attitudes, plans, projects, and expectations with the technology earlier this year.

Chief among the survey’s findings is that, despite the hype, the 64-year old concept is at an early stage in most manufacturing companies. And while many companies expect AI to displace significant percentages of their workforces, they also anticipate that many of the displaced workers will be retrained for other roles in their companies, undercutting the notion that AI will inevitably lead to a vast wasteland of unemployed people. Moreover, a majority believes that while AI and machine learning are significant, they will not be transformative for the manufacturing industry.

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