Last week, the Japanese multinational conglomerate Hitachi quietly issued an intriguing announcement. Apparently, the company has appointed its first AI boss.
Well, kinda-sorta. The announcement details a new initiative in which artificial intelligence (AI) technology is being used to determine workflows and employee duties in real time. Specifically, an AI “boss” was put in charge of a warehouse management system, where it managed to effect an 8 percent increase in efficiency among its human servants workers.
The opening paragraph of the press release is worth quoting in full:
“Hitachi, Ltd. announced today, the development of AI technology which provides appropriate work orders based on an understanding of demand fluctuation and on-site kaizen activity derived from big data accumulated daily in corporate business systems, and its verification in logistics tasks by improving efficiency by 8%. By integrating the AI into business systems, it may become possible to realize efficient operations in a diverse range of areas through human and AI cooperation.”
(Sounds like a fun place to work, doesn’t it? The language in the Hitachi press release is a little…”dense” is probably the polite term. That may partly be a Japanese-English translation issue, but I suspect the Corporate Jargon-English translation issue is the bigger problem.)
Who’s the boss?
Of course, we’ve seen all kinds of automation introduced into the workplace over the years, from the Industrial Revolution to modern IT infrastructures. But this project is different. The AI system isn’t just automating routine tasks. It’s actually adjusting work orders on the fly, basing its decisions on enormous, cumulonimbus swirls of Big Data stored up the Cloud.
In this case, those weather metaphors are no joke. The Hitachi AI is programmed to adjust work flows depending on what the weather’s like (among other factors). So forget about blaming that snowstorm for being late or delaying a deadline: The boss already knows about the snow and has already Made Appropriate Corrections.
The really fascinating stuff involves the integration of artificial intelligence with the concept of kaizen — the business philosophy common in Japan that encourages workers and managers to constantly improve their personal efficiency.