30 August 2018 by Spencer Symmons
It may still be in its infancy, but artificial intelligence is already shaping society in ways previously unimaginable. From smart home systems and virtual assistants to intelligent chatbots and even autonomous cleaning robots, the future is moving fast.
For engineers, this is a time of rapid technological transformation: soon, the tools they rely on to design, build and test machines, materials, systems and structures could be powered by AI. But the potential advanced computing could have on the engineering industry is just beginning to unfold.
The fourth industrial revolution waits around the corner; a second machine age powered not by steam, but by big data and smart technology. By 2030, engineers will operate in an arena vastly different from the one they know today. However, considering the unprecedented pace at which technology is evolving, we may not have to wait that long to see noticeable changes to the industry.
The convergence of AI software and IoT provides engineering firms with the opportunity to cut costs, save time and drive efficiency with real-time monitoring platforms and advanced data analytics. Through the implementation of enhanced analytics platforms, engineers can collect and analyse data from sensors; they can gain insight into engineering and maintenance operations to deploy real-time solutions and reduce downtime in equipment.
Engineering giant GE has already explored the potential that AI has to offer by developing what they call the Industrial Internet; the installation of intelligent sensor technology on machinery throughout every sector it operates in. The data that the sensors collect provides a real-time health-check of the tools and equipment used: the AI software then automatically makes adjustments accordingly to optimise output.
This “predictive maintenance” is one of the most exciting aspects of the arrival of AI into the world of engineering: with the promise of reduced overheads and virtually no downtime, the job of an engineer is greatly facilitated.
Since its inception, artificial intelligence has typically conjured images of autonomous robots replacing humans in the workforce, and to some degree, we’re right: due to the potential AI has to revolutionise menial and repetitive tasks, industry experts anticipate a raft of entry level jobs to eventually disappear from the market entirely.
On the surface, it’s a scary prospect – yet, a quick peek into our past experiences of technological transformation should serve as reassurance. The digital revolution may have changed the way we live and work, but jobs were not lost as a result of innovation – they simply evolved in line with technology.
While many professionals are wary of AI as it may steal their job, a report from the University of Oxford places Engineering and Science professions as the least threatened industries by AI. In fact, most studies point to Engineers experiencing great benefits from the rise of AI tools. In an era characterised by intelligent computers, new skills will be required from budding graduates and so, naturally, universities will update their courses to reflect the modern engineering landscape.
While we may need fewer people to operate machines, talented engineers will always be in high demand: it’s they who take our society to new heights; it’s they who will continue to do so for years to come.
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