In this round-up we will be looking at some of the developments and challenges surrounding artificial intelligence.
Development and Collaborations
The Organisation for Economic Development (OECD) has launched its Artificial Intelligence (AI) Observatory, which aims to help countries encourage, nurture and monitor the responsible development of trustworthy AI systems for the benefit of society.
The Observatory works with policy communities across and beyond the OECD - from the digital economy and science and technology policy, to employment, health, consumer protection, education and transport policy – considering the opportunities and challenges posed by current and future AI developments in a coherent, holistic manner.
The AI Observatory is being built on evidence-based analysis and provides a centre for the collection and sharing of information on AI, leveraging the OECD’s reputation for measurement methodologies. The Observatory will also engage a wide spectrum of stakeholders from the technical community, the private sector, academia, civil society and other international organisations, providing a hub for dialogue and collaboration.
According to a report produced by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) Health and The McKinsey Centre for Government (MCG), AI can increase productivity and the efficiency of care delivery, allowing healthcare systems to provide better outcomes for patients.
The WHO estimates that by 2030 the world will be short of 9.9 million doctors, nurses and midwives, which adds to the challenges faced by an already overburdened healthcare system. Supporting the widespread adoption and scaling of AI could help alleviate this shortfall, the report says, by streamlining or even eliminating administrative tasks, which can occupy up to 70% of a healthcare professional’s time.
The issues highlighted, among others, means that ‘AI is now ‘top-of-mind’ for healthcare decision makers, governments, investors and innovators and the EU itself,’ the report states.₁
To fully unlock the potential and capabilities of AI, there is an urgent need to attract and up-skill a generation of data-literate healthcare professionals.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is influencing larger trends in global sustainability. Many communities in developing nations do not have access to clean water, which impacts health and has economic and environmental implications.
AI has the capacity and ability to adapt and process large amounts of data in real time. This makes it an ideal tool for managing water resource, whereby utility managers can maximise current revenue, effectively forecasting and planning for the years ahead.
Currently, the development of AI is accelerating, but legal and ethical guidelines are yet to be implemented. In order to prepare the future generations of business leaders and national and international policy makers, the academic community will be playing a large role in this.
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In recent years, companies in chemicals and other process industries have been giving much greater priority to process safety improvements, and a safety culture has been created among employees.
Consequently, industrial incidents have been decreasing, particularly in North America and Europe. In the US, a total in 2016 of 213 incidents – covering leaks, fires, explosions, and injuries – was the lowest for 10 years, according to figures from the American Chemistry Council’s (ACC) Responsible Care programme. The ACC’s member companies operate about 2,000 facilities – in 2016, half of its members had no incidents.
Now, chemical companies are confident they can reduce this even further. LyondellBasell, the US-based petrochemicals and polymers multinational, is aiming under its GoalZero programme for no incidents at all. BASF has set itself a goal of an annual rate of process safety incidents of at least 0.5 per one million working hours by 2025 – a quarter of the level in 2015.
Digitalisation should massively improve safety through initiatives like the use of sensors to signal deficiencies in equipment. Labelled Industry 4.0, digitisation represents the fourth generation of industrialisation. It has the potential to revolutionise the whole value chain in chemicals and other industries, particularly the manufacturing stages.
In manufacturing, digitalisation can lower costs and improve efficiencies from labour to research and development. In process safety, the main advantages are automation via plant monitoring sensors, drastically reducing manpower. Digitalisation can bring down maintenance costs by as much as 40%, and reduce total plant downtime by 30–50%.
Industry 4.0 is not just about collecting and delivering huge amounts of data to central points, but also about processing and analysing big data. With process safety, it provides analytics platforms for achieving significant improvements in safety performance. A key feature of the current digitalisation wave is that the automation system can be designed in-house by company employees, using computer tools supplied by software specialists. This enables companies to tailor how they use the new technology.
BASF scientists celebrate the installation of its new supercomputer. Image: BASF
BASF has embarked on an ambitious digitalisation programme with the aid of a supercomputer installed this summer at its main site at Ludwigshafen. A primary purpose of the supercomputer is to boost the company’s R&D performance, but it will also make a substantial contribution to advancing process safety.
Martin Brudermueller, BASF vice-chairman and chief technology officer, said in June 2017, ‘As long as we have the data we can use the supercomputer to analyse the causes of process safety incidents. But we are more likely to use it to introduce safer process systems – how we can predict and prevent accidents happening with the help of sensors. We will be able to work out, for example, the level of seriousness of warning signs from sensors, particularly in relation to the degradation of materials.’
Meanwhile, German speciality chemicals company, Evonik has seen its rate of incident frequency more than halved since 2008, likely due partly to the application of digital technologies. It wants to use automation to identify and prevent process safety risks.
German polymers and coatings producer Covestro has started collecting data from its plants worldwide on every leak, as well as minor and near-miss incidents. The data are carefully analysed to determine causes, with the results and corrective actions being publicised throughout the group.
Chemicals and other process industries have a long history of collecting, interconnecting and analysing data to gain added value, but OSIsoft has warned that the large amounts of data yielded by digitalisation will be a big test for existing IT systems.
Some process safety specialists fear that digitalisation could also lead technical staff to become disengaged from safety issues as responsibilities for checking equipment outside control rooms become automated.
‘To be successful, digitalisation projects in areas like process safety need to be matched properly with human factors,’ explains David Embrey, a consultant at Human Reliability in Dalton, Lancashire. ‘Some schemes can be too technology-centric, with not enough consideration of interaction with people.
‘The introduction of new technologies always brings new risks. For a start, will the digital technologies be accepted by the workforce when they are replacing tasks done by humans?’
The ultimate objective behind digitalisation is analytics. Huge amounts of data can be accumulated to create algorithms that tell companies what to do to increase productivity and raise efficiencies, for example through big cuts in downtime as a result of decreases in process safety incidents.