computers

The cargo and freight agent sector is expected to be among those industries most likely to be computerised in the next 20 years, according to a new report by Oxford University.

Artificial intelligence, loosely defined as technology that thinks and acts likes humans, is gaining momentum in all aspects in life: self-driving cars and digital personal assistants are just two examples that have caught attention lately. Its application in the domain of planning scarce resources is perhaps less known.

Recent results from the transport industry confirm that such technology provides a viable alternative to the more traditional approach of using optimisation techniques. And this holds especially true when the planning issue at hand is dynamic and prone to last-minute changes.

The advantages to cargo airlines using this technique in the years to come, are clear. They will further improve their planning processes and sweat their valuable assets even more.

Sceptics of technological developments in the air cargo domain often argue that its complexity as a sector – relative to the more homogenous passenger industry – makes advanced decision-making more difficult.

Arguably, the first half of that statement is true, but the second half is not.

A car that drives itself is (technologically speaking) not too far off, and making that safe on a busy highway should involve far more complex real-time decision making than that required to support cargo airlines in making better decisions.

Not convinced? Well, the recent study (The future of employment; how susceptible are jobs to computerisation? by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne) by researchers from Oxford University points in a similar direction. This study concludes that close to 50% of today’s jobs in the US could be automated in the next two decades.

The approach to this study was as follows. The researchers looked for bottlenecks of what they call computerisation and compared that with the characteristics of more than 700 job descriptions. The result is a probability number whereby 0 (zero) means that certain jobs are unlikely to be computerised in the next two decades and 1 means they are very likely to be computerised.

Their score for cargo and freight agents (cargo agent, freight broker, load planner, logistics co-ordinator and operations manager) was 0.99. So according to the study, it is very likely that planning jobs in the air cargo industry will be taken over by software applications in the next two decades.

Whether this is considered an opportunity for further efficiency improvements or a risk regarding the potential loss of jobs, depends likely on which side of the fence you stand.

Niall van de Wouw is managing director of Clive.

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