Electrical Safety 360
The potential of artificial intelligence (AI) • Electrical Safety 360, February 2019
By Mike Doherty
February 13, 2019 – Not long ago, artificial intelligence (AI) was far too technically unconventional for most of us to foresee how it could influence the world in practical and pragmatic ways. Now, however, the future of AI has truly arrived.
“AI is a broad branch of computer science,” explains Raj Ramesh, a consultant in this field. “The goal of AI is to create systems that can function intelligently and independently.”
AI represents a significant game-changer for businesses. Many have already investigated and invested in the technology. People who work in the electrical sector—including the electrical safety sector—need to be front and centre, too, or they could risk losing out.
Just ask a taxi driver who now has to compete with Uber, which uses AI to match passengers and drivers and to optimize their routes. The simplicity of Uber’s mobile app has changed the transportation business. You might say this transformation is ‘the canary in the coal mine’ for the future impact of AI in other parts of our lives. (Ironically, AI is also key in the development of self-driving cars, which could soon wipe out the need for human Uber drivers.)
A lot of people who wish to keep working will have to be nimble, quick and forward-thinking to survive. There have been many predictions about which trades and professions will thrive and which might not.
I prefer to see the glass as half full, so I am fascinated by the existing and emerging potential of AI to make for safer workplaces. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has developed a self-paced online course called ‘Artificial Intelligence: Implications for Business Strategy.’ While AI is certainly not my area of expertise, such an overview of the technology has shown me how it could affect electrical safety.
By way of example, there are two levels of visual learning through AI that could be applied to video footage of an electrical task being completed in compliance with best practices for safety. In the first, ‘machine learning,’ the AI learns how to complete the task correctly from start to finish, potentially with zero human performance frailties. In the second, ‘deep learning,’ algorithms are developed to assist with that specific task going forward.
With these types of learning, AI could monitor a task to ensure all safety parameters have been met, alerting people as appropriate about any potential safety violations, such as failure to use personal protective equipment (PPE). It could be set up to monitor shock and arc flash protection boundaries and insulated tooling, to name just a few. Any procedural steps would be defined by its algorithms.
From a safety viewpoint, the ability of AI to learn a task should be of outstanding assistance, but there are also many critical and weighty ethical implications. As with all technological advances, basic human caring needs to be built into the workplace.
It will be a challenge. Change has never come so fast and had so much impact at any time in human history. Workers and managers cannot afford to be complacent when considering both the benefits and the disadvantages.
AI is here now and will not be going away. We need to ensure our future in the industry, while also creating safer workplaces. So, we need to embrace AI in a positive and proactive manner. If we leave its adoption solely to financial concerns, we may not like what we get. Rather, a balance is essential between safety, good business practices and compassion.
Mike Doherty is president and owner of Blue Arc Electrical Safety Technologies and an electrical safety subject matter expert. His specialties include electrical safety management, consulting, training, auditing and incident investigations. He is an independent electrical safety consultant/trainer contractor for eHazard in Canada and independent technical advisor contractor for eWorkSAFE in Canada. He is a licensed electrician and an IEEE senior member and has served as the Technical Committee chair for CSA Z462 since its inception in 2006. Mike can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column originally appeared in the February 2019 issue of Electrical Business magazine.