Author Archives: Kelly Brown

About Kelly Brown

An IT practitioner by education and trade and an educator by good fortune.

Preventing Crime Using Predictive Analytics

In the 2002 futuristic movie “Minority Report,” Tom Cruise heads up a police division called PreCrime. This unit uses predictive analysis collected from mutants to arrest the would-be criminal before the crime is committed. The movie is set in 2054 and while I don’t think we have crime fighting mutants among us, we do have computers that make predictive analysis in police work a reality in 2017.

Predictive Analysis

Predictive analysis uses data mining, statistics, computer modeling, and machine learning to predict future events. This can help companies or agencies to better position a product launch or develop a business continuity plan. It can also help them forecast demand for products or services. Retail stores have used this science for years to plan for resources based on a number of factors such as the day of the week, day of the year, weather, and other data points. Dunkin’ Donuts, for example, uses same day sales for the last year as a factor in deciding how many donuts to start on any given day. This helps to reduce waste from too much product and ensures that a customer can always get a French cruller at the end of a busy day.

PredPol

This same predictive analysis is being applied to crime prevention. Predpol is an advanced analytics application that police agencies in California, Maryland, Florida, Georgia, Washington and elsewhere are using. The software collects three historical data points: past type of crime, place of crime, and time of crime.

Through historical analysis, Predpol developers have discovered that there is a pattern to crime and criminals and by mining for those three data points the application can predict where crime is likely to occur in the future. There is no personally identifiable information collected or used so as to prevent biases or profiling. Once the predictive analysis is complete, police assign extra patrols to discourage crime where it is expected. Police report this application does indeed help reduce crime in their jurisdictions. This is a case of advanced analytics being used for positive results in communities.

Counterpoint

To be fair, the output is only as good as the data entered. Information analysts often refer to this as “garbage in, garbage out.” Software such as Predpol and other applications rely on clean, accurate data to predict future hotspots. In a recent blog post from the Council On Foreign Relations, the authors argue that not all crimes are reported so these tools are limited because they start with an incomplete data set, which results in inaccurate or limited information about future crimes. Police go back to the areas where crimes were reported but miss other obvious opportunities because they lack a full data picture. It is important to factor in other data points in order to understand the full picture.

Thoughts

There will most likely be some pushback from people concerned about profiling of a particular neighborhood or audience, but with reasonably clean and unbiased data collection tools such as these can aid law enforcement agencies in fighting crime and creating safer communities.

Do you have other examples of data analytics that is helping to solve real world problems? Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

STEAM: Adding Arts to STEM Education

I have written in the past about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education for young people. I am a big advocate of STEM learning and participate in events when possible. I think it is important for everyone to be grounded in the sciences and math to be able to work in our increasingly complex world. It is nice to know how to use an app or a particular software but it is even better to know how it works, especially when it mysteriously fails and you need to try to fix it.

Lately, I have been seeing the term STEAM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math. In other words, arts inserted into STEM. To be honest, I was skeptical when I first started seeing this term because it felt like the arts were jumping on a bandwagon they were not supposed to be part of. In this post I will explore the origins of STEM and how we got from STEM to STEAM and the value of adding arts education.

Origins of STEM

The Russian satellite Sputnik launch in 1957 started a rivalry with America for technical superiority on earth and in space. America thought that it should be first in terms of smart scientists and mathematicians. The U.S. developed plans to place a man on the moon and in July, 1969, realized that vision and regained superiority in the space race. Growing up in the 1960s, we all wanted to be astronauts and we studied the necessary disciplines to get us into space. Science and math were fundamental. Computer development in the ‘80s and ‘90s kept technical subjects in the forefront. Programming, math, and electronics were important and exciting.

The National Science Foundation coined the term STEM in 2001 to refer to a renewed emphasis in teaching technical disciplines. Surveys showed that American education was slipping compared to other countries and we were losing that superiority we fought so hard to gain in the 1960s. STEM renewed the emphasis on science education in order to stay on top.

STEM to STEAM

The Rhode Island School of Design championed the term STEAM in an attempt to include art and design with the traditional STEM subjects. They are working to promote this transition with educational institutions around the country. A recent article in the Tech Edvocate did a good job of advocating for this move. Traditional STEM subjects are analytical or left-brained by nature whereas art and design and creativity and spatial awareness all come from the right hemisphere of the brain. In order to create a holistic or whole brained approach to teaching STEM subjects, we need to call on our powers of analysis and visualization. This makes sense to me. A recent conversation with school-age youth brought up the same points. Instead of arts trying to tag along with STEM, this is a way to actively incorporate other methods of learning into technical subjects.

Thoughts

If we are deliberate and thoughtful about adding art, design, and visualization exercises into traditional STEM curriculum, then I think it can be a plus for the student. It will help them navigate both hemispheres of the brain in order to turn out a more creative product. What are your thoughts? Is STEAM a good idea or will it detract from the STEM emphasis.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Robot Companions for Seniors

Photograph of smiling elderly woman using a tablet computer.Medical technology is allowing us to live longer but increased longevity also means more of us will live alone. Our average life expectancy is rising but we will not all live to be 100 or older. For seniors living alone, there are now solutions to help with basic living, scheduling, and social tasks that can help keep them independent.

Robot Companions

Isolation is a problem for many people living alone. They may be unable to get out to interact with other people or they simply may have no desire to do so. This is where robots could help. Intuition Robotics has recently introduced ElliQ, an artificial intelligence (AI) robot that interacts with seniors. While this robot does not have traditional arms and legs it is designed to keep seniors in touch with others and help them track appointments and even suggest activities. Most importantly, it works through a natural speech interface. It communicates through a combination of lights and sounds and voice. Because it incorporates machine learning, or AI, it learns habits and preferences and helps set and remember daily schedules and routines.

ElliQ is designed to be a fixed robot but other robots, such as Softbank’s Pepper, are mobile. At this time it can only carry the built-in tablet which acts as its interface, but it can follow or get to people who are less mobile. This is a relatively new device that is starting to be used in retail shops to interact with customers.

Robokind has developed Milo, which is a combination of ElliQ and Pepper but with more humanlike limbs and facial expressions. It accepts voice input and interacts with people through natural voice output and body language. Milo is being touted for seniors and those living alone and for people on the autism spectrum who can benefit from his personal interaction.

Possibilities

I can think of other benefits of these robots. They could aid and encourage music practice. For example, they could be programmed to be a metronome while I practice an instrument. Better yet, they could provide another part of the music that I am playing. For example, if I play the guitar, perhaps the robot could play bass violin or another part to accompany me. Another use could be practicing or learning a foreign language. With the right programming, the robot could provide many components of good language learning courses—lessons, immersion, repetitive practice, immediate feedback and correction.

All of these things keep the mind active and hopefully slow the inevitable aging process. Repetitive tasks such as music or language lessons can increase brain activity and general life satisfaction. With the aid of technology, those extra years can be rich and rewarding.

Thoughts

Can you think of other applications that would help seniors, particularly those living alone? Will robot apps become a new industry? Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Academic Research: Benefits of Collaboration

I have been researching technology collaboration between research universities and corporations. There are brilliant students and professors in university research programs but limited funding. Companies are hungry for innovations to fill their pipeline and generally have substantial resources. This week we’ll take a look at the practice of technology transfer and point out some of the successes of the last few years.

Innovation

In my AIM innovations course we debate potential sources of ideas. Sometimes it seems as if companies are pulling from a dry well or merely creating extensions of existing technologies because that is what they are most familiar with. Psychologist Abraham Maslow once said, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” This is true when trying to diagnose psychological issues or developing breakthrough technology solutions. Student scientists, researchers and inventors often have no knowledge of what has or has not worked in the past. They ask “what if” as if there were no barriers and proceed to develop new products and applications.

Applications

Here at the University of Oregon there have been several technology transfers in recent years, both to existing companies and new companies spun off for the purpose of commercializing research. One of the most recent start-ups is Suprasensor which focuses on precision agriculture or what they call “the introduction of science and technology to farm management.” They have developed green farming practices by using sensors which enable growers to use less water and fertilizer while enjoying a greater yield.

On the UO campus, the new Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact seeks to turn laboratory discoveries into tangible innovations that improve lives. This program is just getting off the ground thanks to a generous donation and promises to work with other universities and corporations in breakthrough solutions. Also here at home, the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute (ONAMI) was formed to coordinate research and commercialization work done by companies and academics in the state and help create new products.

From Research To Application

The nicotine patch came out of research from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). The technology was developed and patented by UCLA and licensed by Ciba-Geigy as a commercial product. This is a great example of university research that led to a beneficial and potentially lifesaving product for millions.

The Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) grew out of the early University of Oregon Medical School in order to expand education and research and to include new focus areas such as biotechnology and biomedicine. A search of the OHSU license portfolio reveals new drugs, devices, and therapies that benefit people worldwide but also helps the university through revenue that can be put back into research for breakthrough treatments. It is a cycle for the university and an example of a profitable collaboration that can save or improve lives for patients.

Thoughts

Research and development is not as efficient or effective when done by one cloistered group. It pays to collaborate with others and reach outside of the traditional walls of development to discover new ideas. That graduate researcher may have just the answer you have been looking for.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

The Value of Real and Virtual Communities

A couple of weeks ago I learned some lessons on community while in a small rural ranching valley. I learned how a community can come together in an emergency and how they support each other and watch out for one another.

 Perfect Storm

I arrived in this valley at just the right time, or just the wrong time depending on your perspective. Earlier this winter there had been one to two feet of snow and sub-zero temperatures, but when I arrived the daytime temperatures were in the high forties with occasional rain and it barely got below freezing at night. Mountains surround this narrow valley with a river running sometimes close to homes and through ranches. The warmth was melting the snow in the hills and valley but because of the prolonged sub-zero temperatures the ground was still frozen, so it couldn’t absorb the melt. This turned the normally placid river into a quarter-mile-wide path of running water that could not sink into the ground. The creeks coming out of the hills were seeking drainage anywhere they could, which meant flooding over roads and fields.

Life Lessons

During this flooding, I helped position straw bales in front of one home to keep water from entering it. Shortly afterwards, some community volunteers came with sandbags and helped us stack them around the house. After they left a group of at least twenty high school youth arrived and stacked a few more sandbags. I was so impressed by the community response that I asked one of the youth why they were not in school today. His response was classic, “Today is a life lesson day.” It turns out this was their third life lesson day since they spent the previous days filling sandbags and preparing for distribution. This caravan moved up and down the valley helping community members prepare for rising water. What a great lesson indeed for the students.

Physical and Virtual

In the case of potential physical danger it is nice to know we can rely on community to help us, but what value do we get from our virtual networks? There are no virtual sandbags, but it would be shortsighted to say our virtual friends cannot come together to support us. A number of years ago I was surprised to see a friend’s Facebook post asking for prayers for her husband who had just had a stroke and was on his way to the hospital. I would have been focused solely on the physical problems at hand, but her virtual community meant enough to her that she reached out in that moment. The requested prayers were her sandbags against the coming storm.

A recent article highlighted people with disabilities who have built a community in Second Life. They cannot always participate in their local physical communities so they have built a virtual space where they can make friends and get and give support. This is their community and support network.

Thoughts

Since my recent experiences with community support, I have been thinking about the differences and similarities between virtual and physical networks. I value each community differently. My social media friends around the world cannot come to my aid in the event of a physical problem, but they provide me with different support that I value just as much. At the end of the day, I think it is important to maintain both groups. Let me know what you value about your communities, virtual or physical.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Planning for the Wireless Future

A recent article in my local paper showcased a new solar powered phone charger and wi-fi hotspot built into a park bench. Apparently these are coming to cities such as Boston and New York, but they are already in a park in my own town. This got me thinking about the ubiquity of wireless connections and the expectations that there should be access almost everywhere. Vehicles are becoming personal internet access points, and I suspect that I could even turn my bicycle into a hot spot. With this expectation of widespread and growing wireless access, how is a network architect supposed to plan for the future? In this post I hope to synthesize best practices of corporate and campus planners to help you plan your own infrastructure.

 Greenfield or Incremental?

Unless you are moving into a brand new building you don’t have the luxury of the greenfield approach, or starting from scratch. The folks at Cisco and other network component providers recommend developing a master plan and then tackling the project in stages. A wireless network consists of routers and switches in the back end and access points at the front end. If you have not been performing periodic upgrades then the entire infrastructure may need to be replaced.

When replacing the system components, look to the future in terms of technology and capacity. There is still a lot of equipment running on the old 802.11b/g standard but 802.11n is a better solution. Even better is 802.11ac but there are not many current devices that can access this standard, although they are coming fast. When developing a plan, look out at least five years to estimate the wireless devices that will be accessing your network. Don’t forget about bring your own devices (BYOD) and Internet of Things (IoT) introducing devices that we may not even have thought of yet.

Appetite for Bandwidth

A December 2015 Educause survey found that 61% of undergraduates in a typical college or university are trying to connect at least two wireless devices to the network at the same time. Some are trying to connect up to four devices at once. University of Oregon enrolled 23,634 students for fall 2016 so using the average of two devices, that is over 47,000 devices potentially hitting the network. That is a lot of access points and switches that need to be working right. Particularly for colleges, but also for businesses, it is important to have the right mix of access, speed, and reliability.

In the article mentioned above, Michael Spande, director of Enterprise Services at Bethel University, says “People pick their colleges based on factors like how good the wireless network is. They share their experiences online, and we can either look good or have a big black eye.” Quality wireless access has become a competitive differentiator.

Refresh, Refresh, Refresh

Whether you are managing a university, corporate, or hospital network, it is important to keep refreshing the hardware and software to ensure high performance. It is hard to predict what the future will hold, so network architects need to be part seers and part engineers. Just like PCs, the technology changes so quickly that a planned refresh cycle is critical to keep up with demand and with newer devices trying to access the network. Some recommend replacing one-quarter of the components every year while others stretch that out to a five-to-six-year refresh cycle. It depends a lot on demand and requirements of the devices accessing the network.

Thoughts

I remember when we installed the first wireless access points, they truly were a novelty. We targeted conference rooms because all of the offices were already hard-wired so wi-fi in those areas would have been redundant. Times have changed and wireless access is the future. Whether sitting on a park bench or in a restaurant, or playing golf on the front nine, our “always on” society is quickly adjusting to internet access anytime, anywhere. Are you ready?

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Planned Obsolescence in Technology: 1930s to Today

Planned Obsolescence in Technology: 1930s to Today

There is a light bulb hanging in a fire station in Livermore, CA that was installed in 1901 and has been glowing almost nonstop since. It has a carbon filament, unlike incandescent bulbs of today, which use tungsten. It was originally a 60 watt bulb but now gives off the glow of a night light, but the fact remains it has been going for over 115 years. Incandescent bulbs of today have a rating of 1,000 hours and LED bulbs have a life expectancy of 50,000 hours. How did we get from a 115 year bulb to a 1,000 hour bulb to a 50,000 hour bulb? Is the life expectancy planned or completely arbitrary? How does this apply to other technologies?

Lightbulb Cartel

In the 1920s, light bulb manufacturers banded together to create the 1,000 hour limit. Sales of bulbs were flattening since no one had to replace them so, to stimulate sales, alternative materials were introduced to reduce the life expectancy. This created a new avenue for manufacturers, the replacement market.

The term “planned obsolescence” can be traced back to a 1932 business pamphlet. Bernard London proposed to end the depression by taxing people who used goods beyond their life expectancy. This included clothing, automobiles, tires, etc. In his treatise, he explained:

“I propose that when a person continues to possess and use old clothing, automobiles and buildings, after they have passed their obsolescence date, as determined at the time they were created, he should be taxed for such continued use of what is legally ‘dead.’”

Fortunately, this idea was never legislated but the concept seems to have caught on in modern consumer culture.

Old Before Its Time

There are many examples of goods that are discarded because of functional, natural, or style obsolescence. General Motors introduced the “model year” in the 1920s to entice people to purchase a new car to keep up with frequent style changes. In reality, the greatest functional automotive innovation came from the electric starter, which replaced the crank. Clothing styles change frequently as well in order to entice people to purchase the latest fashion.

The stage was set years ago for our current technology obsolescence cycle. Some would argue that our consumerism fuels a growing GDP or spurs innovation and new technological breakthroughs. Others would argue that it fuels mountains of electronic waste and discarded toxic chemicals and minerals.

Operating system upgrades create obsolete products by overloading hardware and firmware. This renders the product, whether it be a smartphone or a smart TV, obsolete and useless. Obsolescence also occurs when someone replaces one piece of technology, such as a computer or operating system, but not the associated printer. This creates a situation where drivers are no longer compatible and components either don’t work at all or work in a diminished functionality. Either scenario is frustrating.

Answers

Unfortunately I do not have the answers to the need for constant technology refresh but I am hoping to start a dialogue here so that together we can come up with a solution. I am the person still running Windows XP on one of my home computers. I understand the security and supportability implications in my decision, but it serves my needs just fine and I don’t think I am keeping any state secrets on my system.

In a previous blog post, I wrote about sustainable production and highlighted projects such as Google’s Ara which is a modular smartphone with replaceable components. I am heartened that there are people and companies that are tackling this issue but I think we all need to understand the potential outcome of our purchase decisions.

Thoughts

Let me know if you have ever been frustrated by a sudden lack of operability because of an upgrade or planned obsolescence. What is your answer? When you purchase a new product do you think about its total lifecycle? How does that affect your choice? Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Raising Digital Citizens

When was the last time you read the use agreement completely for an app, a website, or new software? I am guilty myself of rushing straight to the “I Accept” button without thoroughly reading the agreement. I justify it, perhaps erroneously, by the fact that I have read standard boilerplate agreements in the past and like to think that I am tech-savvy and understand the implications. As we move into an increasingly digital world, not everyone understands the tech behind the tech and the consequences of agreeing to use documents, particularly young kids who are now growing up digital.

Growing Up Digital

The Children’s Commissioner For England recently published a report calling for increased internet protection for children. They called for greater oversight and user rights of websites targeting children and teenagers. When 13-year-olds were asked to read through the use agreement for Instagram, where many of them had an account, they found the legal language boring and incomprehensible. When the use agreement was rewritten to be understandable, the children were surprised at the rights that they had given up and their lack of recourse in case of problems. The report calls for more oversight of websites and apps targeting children and a crackdown on cyber bullying by children and adults.

In the beginning, the internet was designed for exchanging information between the military and advanced research academic institutions. I am not sure that anyone could have foretold a time when it was being used commercially for exchanging pictures and texts by people of all ages. It has morphed and grown over time and I think we have a responsibility to protect the youngest users.

Digital Responsibility

As educators and parents, it is important that we teach digital responsibility to young people to give them a basis on how to conduct themselves on the internet and in social media. I work with a youth group and we regularly talk about rights and responsibilities while on the internet. We focus on recognizing cyber bullying, sharing private information, and behaving appropriately on social media. We can all think of adults who should have had these lessons growing up.

I recently came across an article that shares ideas on how to teach digital responsibility. They give some great pointers on topics such as using social media wisely, developing a professional persona, and protecting your privacy. We may think that some of these are topics for adults, but children are building their digital footprint already. When my son was still a teenager, he somehow developed a profile that listed him as a 50-year-old veteran and father; the resulting advertisements showed up in my mailbox for several years afterwards. He got an invitation from AARP even before I did.

Tools

Dijiwise is a tool created to allow parents to connect to their child’s social media accounts (assuming they will give you the password). You can monitor multiple accounts, such as Instagram and Facebook, through an app. This tool gives real time notifications so you can steer a teenager toward responsible posting and sharing. Circle by Disney is a device that connects to your home wi-fi and controls all devices in the home. You can set various limits, such as times a device is used, sites visited, or time spent on a particular device. This is useful for monitoring younger children.

Thoughts

Young people are growing up digital so it is important they start off on the right foot. Even with all of the monitoring and tools available, I think that the most important tool is open conversation. “What are you working on tonight?” “How are things going in your social circle?” The earlier we start that dialogue, the better chance we have of setting them up for success as digital citizens. Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Workplace Trends: Increasing Employee Engagement

As the US economy continued to grow in 2016, employers added more jobs and competition for jobs increased. By the end of the year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 5.5 million unfilled jobs. Part of that is due to a skills mismatch and part to competition for a finite number of workers. What do employers need to do to fill all of these openings? I did some research on workplace trends that will hopefully attract workers to these jobs.

Generation Y and Z

The median tenure with an employer is currently 4.6 years. Among millennials, the statistic is 2.8 years. Millennials are concerned about respect and about doing great work. They are more confident in their skills and switch employers when they don’t feel respected or feel that their work is not meaningful. Employers will need to combat this with more transparency. Instead of rolling out new policies, companies will also need to explain the rationale behind the decisions. Better yet, employees should be involved in policy making. Generation Y and soon to follow Generation Z, are both tech savvy so it will be harder in the future to not be transparent. If you don’t believe me, look at Glassdoor.com to see what current and past employees are saying about your company.

 Employee Experience

In recent years, we have used data analytics to increase our knowledge about customers, potential customers, and even suppliers. This year, companies are turning the lens inward to observe employee experience and satisfaction. IBM has been developing people analytics tools as a marketable product and for use in their own workforce. Human resource (HR) departments are able to do predictive analysis on employee satisfaction and hopefully reduce dissatisfaction and excessive turnover. It reminds me of the movie “Minority Report” where there was a method of predicting when a crime would occur and the police stopped the crime before it happened. Perhaps HR can swoop in and persuade a key employee not to leave the organization since it costs a lot more to replace than retain one. HR departments are changing to meet organizational needs, and people analytics is one tool they will be using more in the future.

Blended Workforce

The gig or freelance economy has grown over the last few years, but the emphasis this year will be on blending these contractors with a traditional workforce. Freelancers work on discrete, time-based jobs or projects and then move on after the job is complete. Websites such as Taskrabbit facilitate this. If the trend continues, employers will need to figure out how to blend short-term contractors, who generally make more money, and full time employees who get benefits on top of a salary. They serve different purposes toward the same goal and they often work side by side, particularly on technical jobs such as coding. How do you reward and retain loyal employees who work alongside those who have no loyalty and are hired for a specific task?

Thoughts

These are just some of the trends that employers will be working through in 2017. Some can be aided by technology but most are a matter of attracting and retaining a talented and dedicated workforce in a competitive market.

What other workplace trends do you see for 2017? Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Artificial Intelligence Applications

Artificial intelligence (AI) will continue to contribute to innovations this year. I think some industries will embrace the change and some will resist for various reasons, including job displacement and trust. Our world is changing already in terms of the tasks that computers take on. Let’s examine some of the ways that AI will change how we work in 2017 and beyond.

Definitions

AI is simply a set of cognitive tasks that can be handled by a computer. Some AI functions incorporate vision and robotics but do not necessarily resemble Arnold Schwarzenegger’s dangerous “Terminator” character. Think of the hundreds of decisions that you make every day and which of those decisions could be best made by a computer, thus freeing you up for more creative and innovative tasks. Another term associated with AI is machine learning. That is the ability of a computer to learn from past cognitive decisions and make corrective choices, similar to how we learn from our mistakes and change our thinking in order to produce a better outcome.

Security

In a recent InformationWeek article, the author is hopeful that AI advances will help solve a skills shortage in the cyber security field. Right now, computers are used to gather data on threats and potential threats to weed out erroneous information and help security professionals formulate a mitigation strategy. In the future, the computer will also be left to formulate and institute the threat response as well as gather the initial data. Far from displacing security personnel, it will free them up to work on higher level tasks such as business continuity and refining the data collected and filtered. In this case, AI provides another pair of hands but security professionals will continue to be in as high demand as they are now.

Automotive Applications

One of the AI applications I am most excited about is automotive. I have written about this in the past and there have been some real breakthroughs recently. One practical application of AI is Ford’s new Pro Trailer Backup Assist. I cannot back up a trailer to save my life; I was denied that gene when I was born. Somehow the trailer appears at my side whenever I try to back into a spot. With backup assist, the driver removes their hands from the steering wheel completely and backs up by using a small knob on the dash. Turn the knob to the right and the trailer moves to the right. This is just the opposite of trying to use the steering wheel and certainly much more intuitive. This is an example of machine learning using vision and computing algorithms. Another even more radical example is the upcoming autonomous vehicle. These vehicles make constant decisions based on sensor input from around the vehicle to safely transport a passenger.

Danger Zones

Robots using machine learning differ from simple drones in that they make independent decisions based on past experience. A drone is controlled by a human operator and cannot function independently. An example of independent robot development is CHIMP from Carnegie Mellon University. CHIMP will be used in industrial application and for search and rescue when the situation is too dangerous for humans. It makes decisions based on instructions, experience, and multiple sensor input.

Thoughts

These are just a few AI applications, with a lot more to come. Are there tasks or decisions that you would just as soon leave to a computer? Do you trust the systems to make those decisions? This is a brave new world and it will take a leap of faith before some of these developments become completely commercialized. Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.