Digitalist Magazine

10 Ways Utility Companies Can Use Artificial Intelligence And Machine Learning

Power Station Control Room, --- Image by © Ocean/Corbis

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are poised to unleash the next wave of digital disruption. They are set to transform business in ways we’ve not seen since the Industrial Revolution, fundamentally reinventing how businesses run, compete, and thrive.

What are AI and ML?

These terms are sometimes used loosely. In 2016, when Deepmind’s AlphaGo took on Korean master Lee Sedol, media coverage used the terms AI, machine learning, and deep learning interchangeably, as if they all meant the same thing.

Artificial intelligence is the broadest term, having been coined as early as 1955. It refers to the ability of machines to exhibit human-like intelligence.

Current capabilities refer to Narrow AI, which is the ability of technology to simulate human intelligence for a specific task only, such as playing chess. We are still some way from creating General AI, which is computer intelligence that is level with human intelligence across a range of tasks.

AI encompasses several different technologies and systems of which machine learning is one. Others include natural language processing, computer vision, and speech recognition.

Machine learning refers to the practice of using algorithms to parse large volumes of data, learn from it, detect patterns, and make decisions or predictions based on these patterns.

Deep learning is a subset of machine learning. It is based on neural networks and is a technique for implementing machine learning that has recently proved highly successful. Again, it is dependent on massive datasets to “train” itself.

So rather than the traditional method of using conditional coding to capture all possible scenarios and the actions required, the machine is given the ability to learn how to perform the task.

Why is AI taking off now?

AI has had its ups and downs over the decades since it was first conceptualized, but now we are finally seeing real progress and it is set to transform our world. The main reasons for this are:

  1. Massive computational power is now available at low cost and can be provisioned in the cloud very quickly. Improvements in GPU design (now with thousands of cores therefore ideally suited to parallel workloads) have increased the training speed of deep learning algorithms by 50x in three years.
  1. Big Data – there has been an explosion in the amount of data we all create, coupled with near limitless storage capacity. Large and diverse data sets provide better training material for the algorithms.
  1. Algorithms are now better at finding patterns in the mountains of data, and AI and machine learning platforms from players such as Google, IBM, and Microsoft are making it much easier to develop applications. Investment in AI – in particular, machine learning and deep learning – is growing fast. Machines are already as good as or better than humans at some tasks, for example, playing games such as chess and go, transcribing audio, analyzing images, and diagnosing diseases.

However, adoption remains low. Business leaders are uncertain about what AI can do for them, where to obtain AI-powered applications and how to integrate them into their companies. Ultimately, the value of AI is not to be found in the models themselves, but in companies’ abilities to harness them.

When should you consider machine learning?

Machine learning is suited to business problems where:

  1. The decision or prediction to be made is complex; for example, face detection, speech recognition, spam filters.
    • You have high-quality, clean, and recent data, labeled (ideally) to allow the algorithm to make sense of it.
    • Some margin of error is acceptable.

10 ways AI can be used in utilities

The utilities industry has great potential to embrace artificial intelligence in the coming years. Here are some examples:

On the retail side, AI can unleash market forces as well as transform the user experience:

Consumers can also benefit from AI:

AI opens a wide range of exciting possibilities for utilities but the changes will not be simple. Early evidence suggests AI can deliver real value to serious adopters, but current uptake outside of the tech sector remains low. Few companies have deployed it at scale. The opportunities and rewards are waiting for those willing to take the plunge.

To learn more about SAP solutions using AI and machine learning, visit here.