Possibilities of artificial intelligence are limitless, and so are the things that could go wrong

(Photo: Pexels)

Data science and artificial intelligence are powering technological progress across different segments, and it comes in as no surprise that it is creating waves in the freight and logistics industry as well. But as code and machines become more advanced, existential questions arise on how their ‘intelligence’ would impact humans as a species.

Hollywood is littered with bad examples of what would happen if intelligent systems rose up in rebellion against humans – be it Skynet or HAL 9000 – it leads us to think about annihilation. The future is now – robots like the Handle, developed by Boston Dynamics walks around, leaps over obstacles, and can carry loads with ease. The creators of Handle explain that it could be of great use to companies that are looking towards automating their warehousing and in replacing human workers who work in hazardous environments.

The machines are built to withstand damage and even communicate with each other in languages that they develop within their system – a prospect that is scary. For instance, the neural network that runs the online translation tool Google Translate is intelligent enough to create an artificial language on its own from scratch, to aid it while it translates human languages.

The Bookmark, a tech news guide came out with a chart that graphically describes how different AI innovations impact our lives, and also has devised a ‘Terminator score’ that provides a yardstick for the possibility of an AI robot rising up against the human race.

The implications could extend to the freight industry as well, felt Sam Carson, communications specialist at The Bookmark, insisting that the problem is not just from rogue robots but also from bad actors within the tech space. “The threat of these machines being hacked is really high. Security needs to be better all around, not just on a website but also for things like drones and smart cars,” he said.

A lot of companies are pouring millions into developing programs for automating cars and trucks, but the security response of these systems when under attack is still unclear. If people with wretched motives could hack a program that runs a 40-ton fully automated truck traveling on a traffic-prone highway, it could lead to consequences that would be unquestionably disastrous.

The analogy extends to drones as well. Delivery drones of the future could work in swarms, communicating with each other as they deliver across specific localities. If their main system is hacked, the drones could be used as surveillance devices by loitering over neighborhoods.

The Terminator score ranges between 1 and 5, with 5 leading to the most destructive AI technology. The score is relative and rates AI innovation based on its ability to conceal itself amongst humans and the havoc it can create if in the event of a rebellion. “Sophia the robot gets a 5 because it already looks human and can be easily disguised. If you see Sophia walking around, you might not necessarily think it is a robot unless you give it a second look. Something like Sophia can blend in a lot more than say, a drone,” said Carson. Self-driving cars and delivery drones like Amazon’s Prime Air get a 2.5 on the Terminator meter.

That being said, Carson sounded optimistic about the future of AI in freight. Technology could be adapted in a way to assist people in working more efficiently and not necessarily take humans out of the equation. Carson suggested that semi-automated trucks would be a common sight in a few years, helping drivers on the road and reducing accidents occurring due to negligence. In the air, drones would be a real possibility if aviation laws are relaxed to allow drone delivery of packages.

And by far the biggest benefactor of the AI race would be warehousing, which would see the advent of robots like Handle, helping increase floor efficiency and in tightening supply chains across different sectors. If the machines are intelligent enough to work independently but not to think out-of-range, artificial intelligence will do all of us a world of good.  

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Vishnu Rajamanickam, Staff Writer

Vishnu writes editorial commentary on cutting-edge technology within the freight industry, profiles startups, and brings in perspective from industry frontrunners and thought leaders in the freight space. In his spare time, he writes neo-noir poetry, blogs about travel & living, and loves to debate about international politics. He hopes to settle down in a village and grow his own food at some point in time. But for now, he is happy to live with his wife in the middle of a German metropolitan.