Automation has already transformed industries in which complexity and performance demands must meet the challenges of fewer available resources, narrower profit margins and expanding product volumes. Examples include the car manufacturing industry, online reservation systems in the travel industry, the introduction of ATMs by the banking industry and more recently, automated mobile money kiosks.
Now the future is beginning to move to autonomous technologies: driverless vehicles, self-tuning databases, delivery robots and the like. While automation involves programming a system to perform specific tasks, autonomous systems are programmed to perform automated tasks, accommodate for variation and self-correct or self-learn with little or no human intervention.
In effect, autonomous is the next level of automation. True autonomous solutions can, once powered on, fully operate on their own to make decisions that are not only the most efficient for the user but, because of the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI), might even suggest a better outcome.
Previous technology waves, such as the internet, have actually served to introduce greater complexity into organisations. Autonomous technology differs by bringing to life the idea that technology can manage itself without human intervention. Autonomous technology doesn’t hide complexity behind new technology, it resolves complexity.
Which industries are ahead of the autonomous curve? These three industries stand out for me:
Manufacturing: Leading manufacturers are looking to invest in autonomous robots to transform supply chains, particularly ones with lower-value and potentially dangerous or high-risk tasks, as the technology becomes more accessible and reliable. For example, robots with haptic sensors that are able to recognise items through touch, can grasp objects as fragile as eggshells and assemble products with multi-surface parts.
A report by the World Bank points out that developing countries’ traditional path to development, often driven by manufacturing, may be at risk because the criteria for becoming an attractive production location are changing. The report explains that companies are beginning to favour locations that can better take advantage of new technologies such as advanced robotics, smart factories, the Internet of Things (IoT) and 3D printing to produce traditional manufactured goods.
However, opportunities remain for developing countries, as long as governments take appropriate policy actions on the three Cs: competitiveness, capabilities, and connectedness.
Healthcare: Kenya is already one of the global leaders when it comes to delivering healthcare services and advice via digital platforms, and the potential exists for healthcare providers and their patients to reap further benefits from semi-autonomous systems as well.
For example, chatbots powered by artificial intelligence schedule appointments and provide relevant, easy-to-understand information about medical conditions, while sensors monitor patients remotely and electronically transmit collected information to health professionals.
The latest digital innovations are reshaping how healthcare organisations deliver patient services, improve outcomes, enhance clinician satisfaction and manage costs more effectively.
Automotive: The self-driving car is the most well-known autonomous machine, and can navigate roadways as well as detect and respond to traffic signals, pedestrians, impediments and other vehicles, using a combination of techniques such as GPS, lasers and odometry.
A 2016 McKinsey report predicts that by 2030, as many as 15 percent of cars sold will be fully autonomous, up to 50 percent electrified and up to 10 percent shared (reducing sales of private-use vehicles). Those advances will lead to a new economy centered on mobility, by gathering information on traffic, route preference and safety, as well as analysing usage trends to determine demand for additional services.
The mobility economy will be about e-commerce, monetisation and personalisation, all of which need massive amounts of data storage. Autonomous vehicles will end up generating hundreds of exabytes of data each year, and companies need to consider where that data is going to go and how to extract value from it.
The benefits of autonomous technology are both incremental and revolutionary. It can drive efficiency, freeing up human resources and generating quick wins that can be reinvested in further implementations. Staff now have the time to use their knowledge of system and functions to proactively change and improve them.
Widespread adoption of autonomous systems is only now becoming possible because of recent advances in AI. For companies in the industries mentioned above, it’s now just a matter of when they will adopt AI and autonomous systems, not if.
(Corine Mbiaketcha Nana is the MD for Kenya Hub covering East, Central and West Africa at Oracle).