Not a week goes by that I don’t hear or read about the coming of the autonomous truck.

It’s been a hot topic of conversation in the transport and logistics industry for the past year or so and we’ve clearly moved from “if” to “when” it’s coming. With so much focus and attention on the autonomous truck it’s no wonder that the emergence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in other parts of the industry have gone virtually unnoticed by trucking executives.

Now, in fairness, I think it’s because it’s a term that most don’t quite understand. Secondly, it’s not really AI. The more accurate term is machine learning.

So what exactly is machine learning?

Without going into too much detail, essentially machine learning are systems that have the ability to learn without being programmed.  It’s a branch of artificial intelligence based on the idea that systems can learn from data, identify patterns and make decisions with minimal human intervention.

Machine learning has been around for over 30 years but some major advances have been made recently – the most important is something called deep learning.  Deep learning has only been made possible over the past few years due to some new major market forces:

  1. Cheap computing power
  2. More accessible data storage
  3. Major advances in algorithms

What exactly is deep learning?

Deep learning is a type of machine learning that trains a computer to perform human-like tasks, such as recognizing speech, identifying images or making predictions. Instead of organizing data to run through predefined equations, deep learning sets up basic parameters about the data and trains the computer to learn on its own by recognizing patterns using many layers of processing.

So why should you care about all of this if you’re in the transport and logistics industry?

The advances in A.I., M.L. and Deep Learning are disrupting and doing a better job on many tasks currently being executed by humans.  The challenge in the transportation industry is that a lot of the current technology may not ever offer M.L. based applications due to the nature and age of the products.  The good news is that a new wave of companies and products are coming out of tech centres like Silicon Valley that are taking aim at the logistics industry.  With trucking companies continuing to look for ways to push up on depressed margins; these new applications cannot show up quickly enough.

I mean, what would your margins look like if 30% of the dispatching and/or order entry tasks were executed by algorithms?