Like the steam engine, the internet and AI are considered “general purpose technologies,” meaning they can be applied to a broad range of applications. Digitization, the internet, AI, robots, and IoT have led to new products and applications. Providing a comprehensive list of these products and applications is not feasible. Our objective here is to illustrate the variety of applications.
Many of the applications fit into two categories, robots and drones, of which we provide some specific examples to give a sense of the breadth of the applications.
“Augmented reality is technology that combines virtual reality with the real world in the form of live video imagery that is digitally enhanced with computer-generated graphics” Perdue (2018). Among other things, augmented reality is being used: to train law enforcement personnel, for medical students to practice surgery, and for training airplane mechanics. In addition, games have been developed for training people to recognize their biases, deal with challenging situations, and to use as therapy tools.
A blockchain ensures the security of records stored on computer networks, including such information as cryptocurrency transactions and medical records. Blockchain technologies are expected to change how you vote, rent a car, and prove who you are, among other things.
For a list of applications of blockchain, see “17 Blockchain Applications That Are Transforming Society.”
Norman (2017) also provides an accessible explanation of multiple potential uses for blockchain technology.
Drones are pilotless aircraft of various sizes and are sometimes classified as a type of robot. They are used for a wide variety of civilian purposes, including: shipping and delivery, disaster management, search and rescue, structural safety inspections, law enforcement/public safety, and maintenance.
For more information on the civilian uses of drones, see Air Drone Craze’s “Top 12 Non-Military Uses”.
There has been an explosion in social media options for communicating and sharing information electronically. Other developments include telemedicine, teleconferencing/virtual meetings, and digital information sharing. Chatbots are tools that simplify the interactions between humans and computers. A chatbot is an AI software that simulate a conversation in natural language. The user can ask a question, e.g., “If I get a C in Econ 2106, will I still be able to major in history?”, or make a request, e.g., put money on a SIM card, etc.
Online platforms are virtual marketplaces that connect independent sellers to buyers. Farrell, Grieg, and Hamoudi (2018) have identified 128 platforms, which they categorized into four groups: the transportation sector, in which drivers transport people or goods, for example, Uber and Lyft; non-transport work in which workers provide a particular service via platforms such as Wag (dog walkers), UrbanSitter (babysitters), TaskRabbit (handyman and home chores), Amazon Mechanical Turk (outsourced online workforce for “human intelligence tasks”); digital marketplaces, for example, eBay; lodging reservation websites, for example, Airbnb and Padsplit. The development of online platforms has led to the gig economy, i.e., an economy consisting of short-term engagements.
AI is the basis for a wide range of systems that support decision making by predicting likely outcomes. For example, credit card companies have developed systems that predict whether a credit card transaction is fraudulent and thus whether the cardholder should be notified. City planning and emergency management utilize serious games—video games designed for purposes other than entertainment—for decision support, interactive education, and situational simulations. These systems can be used in medical or clinical settings, for example, to decide whether to release a patient from the hospital. Public safety officials use such systems to decide where to allocate resources. Social service agencies use such systems to decide which children are most at risk for neglect and abuse. University admissions offices are using AI systems to determine whom to admit. Courts are using such system to decide whether someone who is incarcerated should be released on bond.
Major strides have been made in how computers read written material, translate foreign language documents, read CT scans (i.e., diagnostic radiology), and process legal documents. Related is the development of image (e.g., facial) recognition, and the ability to select qualified job applicants from application forms, or predict which workers will quit.
The term robot was coined in 1921 by the Czech dramatist Karel Capek in his play, Rossum’s Universal Robots (R.U.R). This word robot is derived from a Czech word which means “compulsory labor.”
One of the many definitions of robot is “A machine capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically, especially one programmable by a computer.” Siegel defines a robot as a machine that communicates, senses, thinks, and acts.
There are two broad categories of robots: task-specific robots, designed to repeatedly do one job such as riveting and welding, and general-purpose robots, which do a wide variety of jobs. A general-purpose robot is able to move around its environment (i.e., it has wheels or legs), can sense its surroundings (i.e., it has light, touch, chemical or hearing sensors), and knows what it is supposed to do (artificial intelligence).
The following are some examples of robots. For a list of over 1,000 robots and a brief explanation of the purpose of each, see New Atlas’ coverage of robotics. Additional information regarding robotics is available from the National Science Foundation.
A wide range of robots is being developed to serve in a variety of roles within the medical environment. Robots specializing in human treatment include surgical robots and rehabilitation robots. The field of assistive and therapeutic robotic devices is also expanding rapidly. These include robots that help patients rehabilitate from serious conditions like strokes, empathic robots that assist in the care of older or physically/mentally challenged individuals, and industrial robots that take on a variety of routine tasks, such as sterilizing rooms.
Robots have been used on factory floors, particularly in car production, for over three decades. These robots were immobile and were programmed to perform one task repeatedly.
Robots are being used to inspect and repair water and sewer lines.
Autonomous vehicles, i.e., driverless vehicles, are a form of a robot. These vehicles are on a continuum from operation with driver assistance to full automation.
FRIEND is a semiautonomous robot designed to support disabled and elderly people in their daily life activities, like preparing and serving a meal. FRIEND makes it possible for patients who are paraplegic, have muscle diseases or serious paralysis (due to strokes etc.), to perform tasks without help from other people, like therapists or nursing staff.
The humanoid robot Bandit provides social cognitive support for the elderly by engaging them in various cognitive tasks (solving puzzles, responding to questions, playing music); it also serves as a therapist and playmate to children with autism.
Nagasaki, Japan’s Henn na Hotel, which opened in 2015, has a front desk entirely operated by robots. There’s a porter robot to take your luggage upstairs, and an in-room concierge robot to answer your questions. However, the Wall Street Journal and other media outlets recently reported that the hotel is significantly reducing its robot staff (Gale and Mochizuki 2018).Robots are being used to deliver room service, monitor buffets and mix cocktails in hotels and on cruise ships across the world.
Intelligent Virtual Assistants perform simple tasks for an individual such as scheduling appointments, controlling and checking the status of smart home devices, and making and receiving phone calls. IPSoft has developed Amelia, an “intelligent personal assistant” capable of analyzing natural language, understanding the context of conversations, applying logic, resolving problems and even sensing emotions.
For example, in one setting she was designed to help local residents locate information and complete application forms, as well as simplify some of the government’s internal processes. Anyone can chat with her 24/7 through the government website. If she can’t answer something, she’s programmed to call a human colleague and learn from the situation, enabling her to tackle a similar question unaided in the future (Jefferies 2016).
IPsoft claims that Amelia absorbs and logs data faster than the best human employees. She processes mountains of information in an instant, eliminates repetitious tasks, and improves customer experiences. Amelia is a digital employee who can do the job of thousands while providing massive return on investment and reducing risk
Sensors are being used for smart waste collection and recycling bins that notify collection crews when the bins need to be emptied, and for streetlights and roads to monitor the need for repair.
Machine learning-based (i.e., AI) traffic control algorithms have recently been explored as an alternative to existing traffic control logics (Jeon, Lee, and Sohn 2018). Navigation apps such as Waze have been developed. Sensors have been created that detect infrastructure problems and send a report to city administrators (e.g. Boston’s “Street Bump” app). Other apps change traffic lights in real time to optimize travel flows. In Florida there are self-driving trucks on the interstates; once off the interstate, a human “driver” takes control remotely.
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