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An Artificial Intelligence Story: The Robot Boss and Data Operations

By   /  February 21, 2017  /  No Comments

Hitachi became an instant sensation when it displayed its first robot in an IT Fair in 1970. Ever since, this Japanese technology company has made great strides in Artificial Intelligence (AI), and more recently, in Machine Learning enabled AI research, as demonstrated through their successive applications in robotics. After 45 years of tireless AI research and product development, Hitachi again made the headlines across global media when it announced the arrival of a Robot Boss on the company’s shop floor. This Artificial Intelligence story is changing the way enterprises understand AI in the modern data-evolved world.

The Robot Boss is a powerful machine supervisor can allocate work to employees in the most efficient manner based on the employee’s past performance. It can also evaluate the outcome of the new work approaches and suitably alters the work processes and work instructions to boost efficiency and productivity. The Hitachi marketing claims that by embracing AI in enterprise IT functions, the company has experienced an 8 percent boost in productivity.

In its press release dated September 04, 2015, Hitachi mentioned that the AI entity was capable of providing work instructions based on the fluctuating needs. This ground-breaking news release stressed on the fact that the Robot Boss develops accurate work orders by studying “demand  fluctuation and on-site kaizen activity,” and then extracting insights from the massive flow of process data in the corporate work flow.

The Artificial Intelligence Story: Operations

What this application indicates is that robots can deliver more efficient operational control in all business processes, a claim that can revolutionize global business operations of the future.

With marked progress in data technologies, superior automated systems have dominated worldwide business operations in the last 10 years. These partially or wholly automated IT systems have been continuously fine tuned through research and product innovations, thus signaling an era of human-machine-camaraderie in business processes.

When Machine Learning entered the realm of AI about five years ago, AI research embarked on the next generation of application development in robotics. Hitachi’s intriguing Artificial Intelligence story proves that one “tall” claim that the machines can hold on to is “work efficiency,” where humans cannot beat the machines, is actually possible. In the coming years, worldwide businesses can take a cue from Hitachi and begin innovating technological solutions for enhanced business productivity based on daily fluctuations of demand and associated shop floor responses.

The Artificial Intelligence Story: Work Order Systems

 In traditional IT processes, the operational instructions are programmed.  Such a system requires frequent human intervention for monitoring and updating the daily work flow based on fluctuating demand, corresponding feedback, and in case of unusual operations. That kind of a system has been impractical and inefficient for many organizations due the workloads required.

To counter such an impractical and time-consuming process-tuning IT system, Hitachi spent years of R&D efforts in robotics, to create their Machine Learning powered Robot Boss that can automatically provide the most appropriate work orders based on a keen understanding of current demands and onsite responses in the form of Big Data gathered through the daily business processes.

This revolutionary machine-supervisor can instantly respond to changing work conditions and alter work orders without any human intervention. Hitachi’s robotics portal stated In September 2015 that the new AI boss responds in “real time,” quickly mitigating logistics or weather emergencies. The portal further states that the company’s first synthetic but extremely sober manager is well-versed in Japanese Kaizen, which worships all forms of business efficiency.

The Hidden Powers of the Robot Boss

According to iDigital Times, the core idea surrounding a robotic boss is the Japanese theory of “kaizen” or “continuous improvement.”  This supremely intelligent, machine boss at Hitachi can learn from studying process data and can adapt to changing needs, based on which then applies the best future process solutions through changed work orders.

Here is a quick review of the powerful capabilities of Hitachi’s Robot Boss:

  • Ability to study the changing work environment and corresponding onsite responses to continuously modify work orders for employees. This supervisory capability is derived from the combined output of business system responses and the workers’ own work approaches gained from experience. As Wall Street Journal points out, the robot manager processes vast amount of process data at a speed that a human manager would never be able to fathom.
  • Ability to monitor and evaluate how a shop floor worker tackles daily problems and devises solutions for future re-use of such solutions for higher efficiency.
  • Ability to analyze the results of the human approaches and selecting improved processes for the next work order in a timely manner. In conventional systems, the heavy reliance on machine codes necessitated the presence of a human domain expert making the system more cumbersome and time consuming.
  • Ability to extract intelligence from Big Data to appropriately respond to fluctuating work conditions like inclement weather, sudden spike in demand, or short periods of non-standard work load. The conventional systems could handle routine fluctuations based on past data but not the short periods of sudden changes as those described here.
  • Enabling the machines (IT systems) to work in tandem with humans (workers) to continuously evolve more efficient work processes.

The Artificial Intelligence Story: Evaluation of Results

In Hitachi, this Robot Boss was implemented on an experimental basis in a warehouse. The internal management system of the warehouse was powered by this AI solution and the before the operational metrics were collected and measured in the area of “item pick up efficiency in the warehouse.” The results from the warehouse management system both before and after implementation of the AI solution were collected and compared. The operational data comparison shows that the warehouse management system powered by AI (Robot Boss) led to an 8% increase in efficiency compared to the previous system.

Global Media and Hitachi’s Robot Boss

Hitachi’s sensational announcement stirred worldwide responses from industry professionals, technology market watchers, and independent media. Here are some quick snapshots of typical responses:

The Daily Beast reported that Hitachi may have successfully combated the number one reason for employee turnover: the manager. The implementation of a machine boss by Hitachi may have just managed to bring in more efficiency and productivity in the workplace sans the ever-increasing feuds between bosses and employees. In other words, the absence of a human boss can enhance the productivity and overall employee morale in a workplace.

Popular Science noted in Hitachi Hires Artificial Intelligence Bosses for Their Warehouses that Hitachi had also pioneered introducing a robotic worker with two arms in the warehouse, who is far more capable of handling items at twice the speed of other robots. Hitachi is planning on making this super-efficient warehouse worker commercially available in the next few years.

The blog post from The Wall Street Journal recounted that Hitachi’s AI Manager is processing huge amounts of data very quickly for improved work instructions to warehouse workers, which a human manager would never be capable of doing.

 In Hitachi Hires First AI Boss to Manage Workers, iDigital Times reported that Hitachi had reached a new milestone in robotics product development by surprising the workers with a robot supervisor one fine morning.

 Digital Trends said in AI Bosses at Hitachi Improve Productivity by 8 Percent that among all software systems that Hitachi had so far experimented with to boost employee productivity, this robotic solution has actually delivered an 8 percent increase in warehouse work flow efficiency for the first time.

Closing Comments

After implementing the AI-powered robot bosses in all its warehouses, the Japanese technology giant now plans on applying this marvelous AI solution to other business functions such as, manufacturing, transport, public works, finance, and healthcare, thus ushering in an era of flexible and intelligent responsive systems to quickly changing conditions in every facet of human society. As mentioned before, Hitachi has also planned to market the “two-armed” robotic warehouse worker in a few years. The Hitachi Artificial Intelligence story is still being written, who knows where it will end.

About the author

Paramita Ghosh has over two and a half decades of business writing experience, much of which has been writing for technology and business domains. She has written extensively for a broad range of industries, including but not limited to data management and data technologies. Paramita has also contributed to blended learning projects. She received her M.A. degree in English Literature in 1984 from Jadavpur University in India, and embarked on her career in the United States in 1989 after completing professional coursework. Having ghostwritten and authored hundreds of articles, blog posts, white papers, case studies, marketing content, and learning modules, Paramita has included authorship of one or two books on the business of business writing as part of her post-retirement projects. She thinks her professional strength is “lifelong learning.”

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