Home Editor's Picks The Emerging Societal Implications of Drone and AI Technology

The Emerging Societal Implications of Drone and AI Technology

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By Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics Management, American Military University

Numerous countries are exploring delivery by drone technology even before the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approves their use in our crowded airspace. For example, drones are now delivering blood across barren landscapes to hospital surgeons, saving hours or even days of transit time.

Will this technology be a factor in reducing accidents and saving lives? Will this smart technology replace short-haul truck drivers or Uber-type emergency service deliveries of medical supplies to hospitals and pharmaceutical warehouses?

There is a real possibility that drone delivery could have a devastating effect on grocery and other retail stores one day. Even now, Amazon is experimenting with drone deliveries to expand its business.

Will brick-and-mortar stores be totally replaced? That’s doubtful. But for remote deliveries or deliveries in bad weather conditions, drones can be beneficial.

Artificial Intelligence Disrupting Employment for Truck Drivers

Smart transportation technology is also creating driverless vehicles. Today’s artificial intelligence (AI) software sensors in vehicles will stop a car before it hits a person or another vehicle. AI sensors can even parallel park your car.

However, AI is creating an unanticipated dilemma for truck drivers. They are losing their jobs due to the approaching threat of driverless trucks.

For example, trucking companies are investing in autonomous driver tractor-trailers to move goods from ports to warehouses or retail stores. Some have already been tested on I-66 in Northern Virginia.

Such smart technology is a destructive force in the trucking workforce. The magnitude of AI’s impact on truck drivers is not yet fully known, but the potential to reduce the driver population is obvious.

Maersk and IBM Converting Their Supply Chain into a Blockchain

Supply chain innovation is coming. Danish transportation giant A. P. Maersk and IBM are merging their technologies to redefine the financial parts of their supply chains into a blockchain.

Blockchain financial parts are the currency exchanges that take place along the hundreds of steps and stops as a package or supply parts are shipped from an original source to the warehouse or retail store, and then to the end customer. This blockchain part is the cryptocurrency that is replacing paper money in banks and financial institutions.

Access to cryptocurrency allows each organization in the supply chain to exchange movement information easier than they could with paper bills of lading. One estimate is that such documentation could account for 20% of the total cost of transportation across the hundreds of possible stops of a product moving along a supply chain.

As Maersk’s chief commercial officer Vincent Clerc, who will serve as chairman of the newly formed board for the joint venture, said in the merger announcement: “The potential from offering a neutral, open digital platform for safe and easy ways of exchanging information is huge, and all players across the supply chain stand to benefit.”

Maersk has noted that the cost of documentation to process and administer many of the goods shipped each year can be as much as one-fifth of the physical transportation cost. The blockchain uses Internet of Things (IoT) and AI technology to create a neutral and open digital platform for the safe and easy exchange of information.

This move toward an open digital platform started in the 1980s, when businesses were trying to rid themselves of the mountains of paper used to conduct business. Computers were the technology that acted as a positive force in creating a new electronic paper trail for moving goods. The blockchain is part of that paperless concept.

Drone and AI Technology Could Impact Other Areas of Our Lives and Jobs

How will neuroscience change the IoT and AI landscape? Will wearable communication devices for solving problems affect the education system in basic concepts of critical thinking and decision making?

Consider the combination of all these technologies. They have the potential to affect our everyday lives, livelihoods and public policies. Will they force early retirement? Old job titles will be replaced with new titles and positions that do not exist today. The retraining of the labor force has been underway for some time as the digital age replaces manual jobs such as cashiers and servers with robots or kiosks to order food.

The demands of the workforce are at a crossroads with social media and the constant 24/7 flow of information, data, knowledge and learning. Business, family and political decisions are being made in hours or minutes compared to the weeks or months of deliberation by committees or teams.

Even the White House uses social media to announce decisions, track their impact and gather facts, information and opinions.

Lifetime skills are in flux. The advent of Scan & Go apps for your iPhone and online shopping have enhanced the customer experience. But retail sales clerks and cashiers are losing their jobs with the rise of online shopping. Their skills are no longer needed.

Many people work for 30 to 40 years in such positions. Now, their technical and human service skills are being replaced by AI. They will need retraining. But for what new positions?

The implications of smart technology loom large on the human-history horizon. Technology is important to our improved living and lifestyles. But the uneasiness that is being felt and written about is important to discuss – now.

About the Author

Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth is a full-time professor at American Military University (AMU). He is the former program director of three academic programs: Reverse Logistics Management, Transportation and Logistics Management, and Government Contracting. Dr. Hedgepeth was a tenured associate professor of Logistics and chair of the Logistics Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He has published two books, RFID Metrics and How Grandma Braided the Rain.