Speakers at Leaders Connect Panel on Artificial Intelligence
Picture left to right – Rob Pasick, Brian Letscher, Andrew Dallas, Gretchen Driskell, Mike Van Lent, Andy Smart and Fred Brown.

Last month, I had the honor of hosting Mike Van Lent and Andrew Dallas from Soar Technology, Inc. at the monthly Leaders Connect Breakfast.  Mike and Andrew spoke on the Artificial Intelligence & Autonomous Vehicle industry here in Michigan.  The full video for the event is here on YouTube.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Mike Van Lent explained Soar Technology and the significance of AI on our culture.  Soar Technology, Inc. is a spin-off from University of Michigan and works with Defense Department research organizations like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Office of Naval Research.  They are working on ways to incorporate Artificial Intelligence in areas of training, robotics, cyber security and decision support.

In the area of robotics, the Army has been incorporating robots into their Army squads.  In combat situations,the robots can provide cover when being fired on to provide the Army personnel time to seek cover.

Artificial Intelligence is the study of how to make computers smart and enable computers to reason and make decisions: symbolically, by trying to match how humans think; non-symbolically by analytical modeling and data analysis.  For example, Watson uses natural language interaction paired with knowledge retrieval algorithms.

In the area of cyber security, the Artificial Intelligence is being used to provide training by creating computer “bad guys” for the military to do training drills against.

In science fiction and popular culture, the robots and computers rise up and take over.  The reality is that AI will just give humans more freedoms to improve and empower ourselves.  We are at a new age as a civilization, the Autonomy Age.  The concerns presented in this new age include:

  1. Employment concerns as AI computers replace people.
  2. Systems making choices on our behalf & liability issues created as a result.
  3. Privacy issues.

Autonomous Vehicles

Andy Dallas provided us with a history lesson on autonomous vehicles.

  • Starting in 1995, a project was done to drive a car across the country without human hands on the steering wheel.  The human was only allowed to impact the throttle.
  • In 1997, vehicle platooning was tested.  A group of AI cars drove behind a human driven car.  Also, intelligent iruise control was developed.
  • In 2004, came the DARPA Challenge.  Autonomous cars were demonstrated in the desert on dirt roads.  Radar was installed in cars and path planning was central.
  • In 2007, brought the Urban Challenge of testing AI cars on city roads dealing with issues like four-way stops.  How do AI cars decide who goes first?  Google brought up the unpredictability of driving with humans not behaving like a computer in situations.  Additional concepts: Smart Cities, Singapore’s Mega City, Mobility on Demand and Collaborative Robotics.


The discussion was then opened up to additional audience members in the AI field; Andy Smart and Fred Brown.  Andy Smart is developing a site at Willow Run to validate this technology to develop safety and efficiency standards for this field.  Fred Brown from Lumiata is working on predictive systems for the health care industry.  Eighty percent of future diseases can be predicted from people’s medical records.

Each month, Leaders Connect spotlights a local nonprofit.  This month, we featured the Purple Rose Theater Company.  Purple Rose has an upcoming play based on AI: Smart Love by Brian Letscher.  Go see Smart Love between January 19 and March 4th of 2017.

“Smart Love is the darkly comedic story of a brilliant young man struggling with his father’s sudden death and the revelation that his parents’ marriage wasn’t everything he was led to believe. This world premiere play explores the implications and possible ramifications of artificial intelligence and science in general, with humor, heartache and potentially devastating consequences. It probes the age-old question: just because we can do a thing, should we?”

After listening to the presentation, I am convinced that AI is already here and will most certainly have as powerful an impact on society as the digital revolution.  As is the case with all new technology, AI can be a constructive or a destructive force…or both.  We, as leaders, will have to be intelligently scrupulous as to how we choose to employ it.  AI is a solution to many problems, but as with all solutions, it plants seeds for creating new problems which we will need to address.


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