Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) are very quickly escaping the realm of science fiction and making their way into our world, taking centre stage at the forefront of technological progress.
Alan Turing’s test to determine a machine’s ability to exhibit human behaviour in the 1950s along with the establishment of AI by American computer scientists have put AI at the centre of scepticism ever since. Today, we recognize AI as the undisputed future of computing and expectations for it are high.
We are already seeing its applications operating at a basic level, like smart assistants from Apple or chatbot customer service agents on Facebook Messenger. But the possibilities are so much more.
What is AI and Machine Learning?
For years, Hollywood has portrayed AI as being super intelligent machines that have the potential to rule over our lives and always revolt against their creators and masters. The Terminator, Transformers, HAL9000, and I, Robot all have their part to play in this narrative, but it couldn’t be further from reality.
Although at present there is no single definition of AI that’s accepted universally, it is often described as a system or network of systems that think and act like humans, learning from their interactions to arrive at logical and rational conclusions.
It is something which is changing our world and, today, many of us have grown accustomed to AI being a part of our lives, even in its current very basic form. And even though we have been aware of AI’s existence since the 1950s, it is only recently, throughout the last decade, that advances have made it commonplace in the everyday lives of consumers.
How Will It Impact the Engineering Profession?
As a world, we are facing unpredictable and tumultuous times. We are seeing technological advancements coming from all angles at a rapid pace and this is massively changing the tools we use, the processes we are familiar with, and the nature of our world. As engineers, all this amounts to huge transitions within the profession.
Whilst you spend your days working on innovative designs, the tools that you use are also being innovated and the demand for artificial intelligence means that the nature of your work is set to change like never before.
Some engineering professionals are openly embracing these impending and inevitable changes, whereas others are naturally more hesitant. The good news, however, is that STEM professions are reported to be the least threatened by AI according to the University of Oxford, with several studies even going so far as to state that engineers and engineering will benefit hugely from the development of AI and its applications to the profession.
Because AI brings with it new possibilities, it will replace certain jobs within certain industries, but it will also open up new industries and jobs within them which aren’t yet on our radar. Not only that, but many jobs within the engineering profession viewed as low in value today will get automated, providing engineering professionals with the time to spend on higher value tasks and projects.
Most engineers recognize that AI is going to cause major changes within the profession, and it only seems natural that artificial intelligence and machine learning are going to be adopted within their workflows, processes, and engineering. Not only does this free up time that would otherwise be spent on inane tasks, but it also enables growth of the profession and provides engineers with the time and ability to design and create things currently not possible due to inherent complexities.
A Few Ways AI Could Impact the Future of Engineering
Looking back through recent history, we can see quite clearly that technological advances had a major impact on all industries and jobs, helping to create new ones and make the performance of the rest easier. In the engineering community, this has been especially relevant and will continue to be so as AI comes into play.
With rapid technological evolution, there is going to be an increased demand for engineers who are capable of not only creating AI systems but also those who can research them, test them, and apply them to projects. This is going to provide engineers with the unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate their raw talent and creativity in a growing and changing industry.
AI is going to create new types of engineering jobs, fields, and experts. These will be in great demand by the world’s foremost companies in response to the new opportunities and types of technology AI is going to make possible.
For the rest of us, AI is going to help us complete our work more efficiently and to a better standard, producing solutions that solve a vast range of new challenges.
How Can We Respond?
In short, by embracing the changes. Although adapting to these changes is easier to said than done, you can’t adapt to them without adopting the changes and applying them to your workflows and processes.
Machine learning, generative design, and so-called “Industry 4.0,” should be considered by engineers since they are the areas most likely to be innovated by AI.
Although AI and machine learning are shrouded by scepticism, engineers should be careful to not par it off and resist the changes that it will bring; for the most part, they are going to be highly beneficial overall.