Microprocessor (CPU) with human brain
Artificial Intelligence (AI) offers the prospect of a frictionless existence, making us more efficient, helping us prevent mistakes, spotting the onset of potential problems before they become problems, and enabling us to spend more time on the things that really matter to us.
It is still “early days” for AI. Consumers have yet to get a real taste for it, but when they do, it will become a powerful new drug. They will demand that all their products display this new level of smartness, develop a hunger for applications and services to get ever smarter, and expect them to “play smartly” with one another. This “smartness” will become an important source of differentiation. This has been our experience at Ocado, a leading online-only grocery retailer, as we’ve embedded AI across our technology estate.
AI at Ocado
At Ocado, our customers’ orders are picked and packed in highly automated warehouses using swarms of purpose-built robots. These robots are capable of collaborating to pick a typical 50-item order in a matter of minutes. This process makes up part of the Ocado Smart Platform, our end-to-end ecommerce, fulfilment, and logistics platform. The technology that powers this revolutionary solution is designed and built in-house, and we are now making this platform available to large brick-and-mortar grocery retailers around the world.
Applications of AI and machine learning (ML) pervade this platform. For our customers, our adoption of AI and ML helps them shop faster with less friction and greater delight. We are able to personalize the experience to better fit their individual shopping styles. From our perspective as a retailer, we are able to predict the demand of the 50,000 different products we sell, detect fraud, and keep our customers safe, as well as manage the real-time control and health of the robot swarms and optimize the thousands of delivery routes that we drive each day.
AI for Good
Like other disruptive technologies before it, AI has the potential to be a huge force for good, solving some of the large societal problems facing humanity.
AI could see us progressing in a multitude of different ways, from augmenting our abilities as human beings to enabling us to achieve things we currently cannot or do not want to do to making smarter use of our scarce resources, whether that be time, energy, water, or land.
These applications could see us achieving world-changing results. Working alongside AI, we have the ability to generate insights and make discoveries that are beyond our human minds. Our increased understanding of this field could help us tackle major societal challenges such as how to provide remote medicine, care, and companionship for our growing elderly demographic. AI could even help us reverse the impact of challenges such as climate change, pollution, and poverty. With all this at our fingertips, it is of paramount importance that we put this technology to good use.
One of the key challenges that countries face when responding to the opportunities presented by AI is the skills deficit. Data science and AI lie at the most overheated end of the software engineering spectrum, and there is a massive shortage of graduates and postgraduates emerging with the necessary skills.
This knowledge deficit lies at the end of a digital literacy pipeline that stretches all the way back to childhood education. There is a massive amount that government, NGOs, and businesses could do to help manage the flow along the entire length of this pipeline. These are essential transformative skills, not just for those who may go on to become software engineers, but also for everyone.
This is why four years ago at Ocado, we launched our Code for Life initiative, where our engineers volunteer their time to create completely free online resources to help teach digital literacy in schools. Code for Life now has over 135,000 users spread across nearly 100 countries. Learn more at www.codeforlife.education.
However, true digital literacy is much more than just a result of teaching our children to code. We must also teach them to be data literate—to understand how to organize, manipulate, and gain insights from data; to visualize and build models from data; and to understand the dangers of bias. Alongside this, we also need to help students understand the amazing possibilities and current limitations of AI and robotics, the important ethical and philosophical questions around their applications as well as what it means to be human.
Maintaining the level of interest in STEM subjects demonstrated by girls of primary school age, which currently decays as they progress through the educational system, will help close this skills gap. It is crucial to the future of the technology industry that digital literacy is considered a requirement rather than an optional extra. This means it is necessary to weave these critical skills throughout the curriculum.
Our next challenge is to make sure that this pipeline does not stop at college or university, but rather continues on into the workplace. We need to do more to incentivize organizations to invest in continual learning, particularly when it comes to subjects such as AI. This can be achieved by blurring the boundary between education and work life. We need to prepare children for the process of continual learning and the inevitable “reskilling” that awaits them.
Many of the skills and techniques we are currently teaching our children will be as devalued in the years to come, just as the encyclopedia has been by the advent of the world wide web. Instead we need to focus on teaching enduring meta skills such as collaboration, creative thinking, problem solving, intersectional thinking, mind mapping, goal setting, and entrepreneurship.
We need to teach “self-reinvention” as a meta skill and reframe the “midlife crisis” into an art form. Now is the time for political thinking and leadership that is truly holistic, agile, bold, and disruptive.
Learn more about how the Ocado Smart Platform can accelerate your online grocery business at www.ocadosolutions.com.