CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
July 23, 2019
Forward Thinking

AI: The future is now

A recent survey shows that a third of U.S. workers are already interacting with artificial intelligence (AI) as a regular part of their job.

Although many business leaders point to artificial intelligence (AI) as a technology that will change the future of the workforce, a recent study shows that nearly a third of U.S. workers (32 percent) are already exposed to some form of AI in their jobs. An additional 6 percent of workers will begin using AI tools for the first time in 2019, according to the study, which was released this month by Optimized Workforce, a newly launched think tank that studies the intersection of technology and employment.

Optimized Workforce said it surveyed more than 10,000 U.S. workers to understand the time they spend on specific tasks, the technologies they work with and the technologies they will deploy next year to help with those tasks. The study found that AI-enabled document classification and document creation technologies are the leading business AI applications today and that they will continue to see strong investment in 2019. The study also found that more strategic AI tools—such as scenario planning—will gain steam in 2019 as well.

"AI is not the future of work, it's the present," Craig Desens, an Optimized Workforce advisor, said in a statement announcing the survey results. "Before we conducted this large-scale survey of U.S. workers, we were predicting AI adoption through macroeconomic indicators. Now we have a more detailed view of the current state."

The transportation and logistics sector is no exception to the growing trend, as a recent industry technology conference illustrated. A series of software and technology demonstrations at MarketWaves18, held November 12-14 in Dallas, showcased applications featuring AI and machine learning technologies designed to streamline transportation and freight industry processes and job functions.

Freight shipping management startup Shipwell was one of them, introducing an AI assistant that allows brokers and shippers to perform automated check calls to drivers. The AI feature in the Shipwell platform uses natural language processing and machine learning to improve both customer-facing and internal operations. Drivers receive an automated check call on their phone, and they can use simple voice commands for pickup and delivery updates, alerts and other functions, eliminating the need to stop and manually enter information. The simple command system allows shippers and brokers to react in real time to issues, problems or changes, all while improving safety via its hands-free operation for drivers. Shipwell is using the tool internally with carriers and plans to roll it out to shippers and other third-party logistics partners later this year, according to company President and Co-founder Jason Traff.

Traff says such products offer the ideal bridge for companies moving from manual to automated processes because they combine the best of both worlds.

"Supply chains are speeding up," he explains. "There are more shipments, and people need to learn to do 10 times more tomorrow than they can do today. The best combination is using a mix of human [talent] and automation. You need a person who is good at their job to do 10 times more than they did last week."

The Optimized Workforce study echoed those sentiments, noting that an anticipated 15 percent productivity gain from AI applications in the U.S. economy this year does not mean there will be a corresponding 15 percent reduction in employment. Instead, the technology will be used to help workers do more with less, freeing up time to spend on more meaningful tasks.

"More than 13 percent of workers surveyed said they spend so much time on tasks that could be made more efficient with AI that they are missing key business goals and deliverables," the survey authors said.

Victoria Kickham, an editor at large for Supply Chain Quarterly, started her career as a newspaper reporter in the Boston area before moving into B2B journalism. She has covered manufacturing, distribution and supply chain issues for a variety of publications in the industrial and electronics sectors, and now writes about everything from forklift batteries to omnichannel business trends for Supply Chain Quarterly's sister publication, DC Velocity.

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