Responsible AI in Manufacturing: How Federal policy and a new generation of [Generative] AI tools is empowering the industry’s most vital component– its frontline workers.

On October 30, 2023, President Biden signed an Executive Order on Safe, Secure and Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence (AI). From its perspective of an AI-centered technology company serving the manufacturing sector – which sector has been a primary legislative focus of the Biden administration overall – Augmentir sees this Executive Order (EO) as much needed on several fronts. In particular, the EO puts more oversight and controls on AI development and advancement, while acknowledging the potential for AI in workforce development and training.

Optimization of the workforce, i.e., striving towards a fully staffed, well-trained, long-term employee base, is a priority issue for the manufacturing sector.  Manufacturing faces a $2T global productivity problem that can largely be traced back to the current labor challenges in manufacturing – labor shortages, skilled labor gap, higher turnover, etc. AI’s potential to play a pivotal role in meeting these challenges is being increasingly recognized: per an October 2023 research report by MIT Technology Review Insights, “every organization surveyed will boost spending on modernizing data infrastructure and adopting AI during the next year, and for nearly half (46%), the budget increase will exceed 25%…When asked how their company’s data strategy needs to improve, the largest share of respondents (39%) say investing in talent and upskilling the workforce. An even larger share (72%) say it will be “very important” to encourage innovation that will help attract and retain talent.”

The emphasis in the EO on putting worker and labor union concerns front and center when issuing AI-related policies reinforces Augmentir’s ethos regarding leveraging AI as a way to “augment” workers – not replace them. In addition, the EO addresses worker concerns around employers using AI to track productivity at a level that violates their federal labor rights. Augmentir is aligned with this caution; our central focus is on workforce development and training, an issue called out in the EO. One of the most effective applications for AI in manufacturing is what Augmentir refers to as an AI Copilot for frontline workers – a Generative AI-based assistant that helps workers perform their jobs safely, correctly, and maximizes their potential. This is where on-the-job learning comes into play, and a big aspect of this is GenAI and its use to generate training content or guidance/instruction for workers so they can perform their jobs safely and correctly.

Safety is a top concern throughout the EO regarding the use of AI; in the context of manufacturing, that concern is turned on its head, as a significant upside of AI. Ensuring worker health and safety is one of the top 5 use cases for AI-based connected worker technology in manufacturing, empowering efficacy in areas including: lone worker safety, permit to work, safety rounds, audits, safety incident and near miss reporting. Utilization of a GenAI-based assistant also results in more effective troubleshooting and assessment of risks in production due to (potential) lack of skilled staffing.

The EO regarding AI is just the latest empowerment of US-based workers from the current administration, following the Inflation Reduction Act, Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and CHIPS Act. Which is great news, with a caveat: the U.S. has a talent shortage. We’ve failed to cultivate our workforce and currently, the manufacturing sector does not have the skilled labor to fully leverage the potential of Industry 4.0, a.k.a. the Fourth Industrial Revolution or 4IR, defined by McKinsey & Company as “the next phase in the digitization of the manufacturing sector, driven by disruptive trends including the rise of data and connectivity, analytics, human-machine interaction, and improvements in robotics.”

As the country takes steps to correct course for the next generation of manufacturing workers, AI can fill the current gap: used responsibly, AI is already being used to maximize the performance of U.S. workers, augmenting and empowering them to become “superhuman.” At Augmentir, we appreciate the administration’s dual recognition of the need for oversight of this incredibly powerful tool, while also sharing our vision for its vast potential in supporting the growth of the American manufacturing sector.

 

Chris Kuntz, Vice President of Strategic Operations for Augmentir, is an experienced executive and entrepreneur with a background in enterprise software and high-tech marketing. He frequently speaks about #ai, #innovation, #futureofwork, #connectedworker, and #digitaltransformation. Chris holds a BS in Mechanical Engineering and Computer Science from SUNY Binghamton.

 

 

 

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