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AI is Everywhere

David Frazee, vice president, Corporate Research Systems Lab, and Mani S. Upadhyaya, vice president, Data & Analytics for 3M’s Digital Transformation team 

We’re seeing more and more breakthroughs in innovation that create fundamental shifts in society. One of the more powerful technological breakthroughs of today is Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its partner Machine Learning (ML), which have the ability to drive entire industries and society forward. 

What is AI? 

Before we dive into the ways AI is impacting our world, let’s look at how we define it.  

Artificial Intelligence is the development of computer systems that can make human-like decisions. AI takes in diverse information and stimuli to learn, adjust and make changes – in essence, it trains itself. Once trained, AI the model is provided data to process and then use to create new information. And that input data can then be used to retrain (i.e., improve) that AI system. This means computers can “learn” and advance themselves with data they receive, in many cases almost instantly.  

The evolution of AI 

The world of AI has evolved in recent years – significantly through its availability to a much larger audience. AI has become more powerful, useful and accessible. What used to be the province of a select few exclusive and well-financed universities or companies is now essentially available to anyone. With more accessibility comes new opportunities for AI to be implemented in unique ways. 

In the past, one almost had to be a data scientist with a PhD, and have a powerful platform costing millions of dollars in upfront investment, and more money in operating costs to build any algorithms. But in recent years, with cloud services widely available, online courses almost everywhere, open-source platforms and algorithm libraries, easy-to-use tools and the falling costs of computing, the barrier to entry has lowered and enabled citizen data scientists to apply AI to business problems. 

AI and industry 

Real-time AI and machine learning are becoming increasingly sophisticated, with the ability to augment and improve a diverse range of industries and business processes. As AI continues to evolve, we’ll see: 

  • Improvements in user experience, like individual recommendations for TikTok and Netflix  
  • Advancements in autonomous vehicles and industrial machinery maintenance, like aircraft engines and manufacturing plants, which will self-diagnose and self-heal proactively 
  • Planning and optimization of software to sense demand, plan accordingly and manufacture efficiently 
  • Improved customer experience, with AI interacting intelligently with customers to resolve their complaints and reduce/prevent issues with their orders  
  • The discovery of new medicines in the pharmaceutical industry, with the ability to run through millions of combinations of molecules and shortlist a few promising candidates 
  • Identification of risks in supply chain, such as taking preemptive action when a traffic incident or severe weather occur 

AI, the vaccine and beyond 

One of the problems AI has helped solve: the need for a COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccines developed in 2020 for COVID-19 could not have been created without AI. The ability to run large experiments with big data and perform AI analysis to learn quickly about many aspects of the vaccine programs was one of the most important technologies used. The use of AI in the broader healthcare industry is just the beginning. AI may be used to find patterns and then predict individual or population health events, which could enable therapy or treatment almost immediately. 

Supply chain advances 

At 3M, AI is used in a variety of commercial products as well as in the enterprise (e.g., Filtrete informs users when they need to replace their furnace filters). New advanced algorithms improve the global supply chain by improving the demand forecasting and sensing as well as improving the quality of production by leveraging machine vision to monitor and predict when defects will appear in the products. It predicts customer disputes by looking at the history of customers that complain and what they complain about. ML is then used to watch out for the attributes and flag them in advance along with suggested resolution. We are using AI in  Sourcing to predict when the supplier might have issues, monitor prices, etc. AI/ML is also being used to meet customer service needs, predict sales run rates and improve financial operations as well. AI has made possible highly optimized and more efficient use of polymer reactors in the 3M EMEA manufacturing, improved quality of N95 respirators, and is predicting web breakages in film lines. 

Other areas and industries AI will impact   

There are numerous advancements in AI making a big impact in industry. Some that come to mind: improving automobiles – like safety features and autonomous driving – predictive maintenance, optimizing manufacturing and supply chain operations, improving customer service and customer experience, better inventory and sourcing management, improving safety and security, traffic management, delivering better public service, lowering energy consumption through efficient operations, and ushering in big improvements to operational efficiency, customer experience and cybersecurity. 

AI in the next five years 

The majority of AI is and will continue to be invisible to us. Voice, facial and other recognition technology will be even more ubiquitous. A simple example can be found in the future of shopping. For shopping, you will get personalized recommendations, complete checkout, pick up your goods and walk out. Your account will be charged because it knows you and all the items you purchased with no checkout line at all. Another example: Diet and exercise can be tuned to an individual’s needs. Depending on your health data, it may recommend less carbs for this meal, and which proteins are optimal. And then learn what works for you. Self-learning will lead to improved quality of manufacturing, automated cleaning, lawn care, and more. The opportunities for AI are almost limitless.