Increasing use of artificial intelligence (AI) will help rather than replace fleet managers for the foreseeable future, predicts FleetCheck.
Neil Avent, IT director at the fleet software company, explained that the developing technology has the potential to simplify and accelerate a wide range of tasks but that an automated fleet manager remains very much in the realms of science fiction.
He said: “The AI that is available to us today is a very useful tool and one that should deliver some very real advances for fleet managers over the next few years but it also has very clear and obvious limits.
“So, for example, one of the things we are looking at now is using AI to identify different sorts of document that arrive into a fleet department. Is it an invoice? A driver’s licence? A speeding fine notification?
“AI is good at a singular type of task such as this. It can be taught to identify some of the key features of each kind of document and then place them in the appropriate queue for action with a high degree of accuracy. This saves a lot of administrative time and effort.
“However, a separate process is needed to know what to do with those documents in terms of the next action. That is because a more general type of general AI, in terms of the technology available, is a long way away.”
Avent explained that the important fact to remember about current AI technology was that it had no innate sense of context.
“AI is good at looking for patterns within clearly defined boundaries,” he said. “For example, if you give it a thousand pictures and ask it to find all the ones that include kittens, you could teach it to do this by providing enough examples of pictures containing a kitten.
“But that is where it’s intelligence about kittens ends. It knows nothing more about kittens than the visual characteristics of the example images containing kittens. It does not know what a kitten is.”
Several paradigm shifts would therefore be needed before AI could take over even some quite basic fleet management processes.
“In a sense, it is a shame that AI includes the word ‘intelligence’ because it provides a very misleading picture of its capability,” continued Avent. “It has no intelligence of its own and is, in many ways, just a further development and refinement of existing IT processes that gives the illusion of intelligence to users not aware of its constraints.
“However, it does have potential for some pretty significant gains and one of the things we’ll be looking at within FleetCheck during 2019 is how some of those can be incorporated into our fleet management software.”