What do the microwave, penicillin and Velcro have in common? All three were founded on an accidental discovery. With the rate of technological change faster than ever, companies can’t leave their research and development (R&D) to chance. Here, Jonathan Wilkins, marketing director at obsolete industrial parts supplier EU Automation, explains how artificial intelligence is playing a role in product development.
Many of the great renaissance scientists were polymaths, a person who has expertise spanning multiple disciplines. Nowadays, students and academics are more likely to train in a single subject, becoming specialists in their fields.
The increase in publishing scientists and the number of academic journals has caused an explosion in scientific research. There are now 2.5 million new scientific papers published each year and, according to Ken Mulvany, founder of BenevolentAI, 90% of the world’s information was produced in the last two years.
The vast amount of information available mean it is difficult for research and development teams to access and analyse all the information relevant to their project, it is becoming impossible to be a polymath.
Technology companies must innovate to survive. Inventing, designing and developing must be efficient to stay competitive and manage costs. Despite the need for speed, it typically takes seven years for an idea to go from conception to commercially valuable product.
To speed up development time companies are increasingly turning to AI, which can simulate and accelerate research processes. AI can synthesise all available information and suggest hundreds of variants of a design – the engineer can then choose which to pursue. For example, Titan Company, part of Tata Group based in Bangalore, India, is using AI to design its new range of personal accessories. Organisations can use AI to improve their products and services, adding features to make them more ergonomic, efficient and safe.
As well as product design, open innovation – generating as many as ideas as possible – before narrowing down to a single idea, can be used to invent entirely new products. Information from a range of sectors can be fed into the AI technology and processed into a product – converging knowledge from a range of sectors into an interdisciplinary idea, much like a polymath would have during the Renaissance.
In the pharmaceutical industry, AI has been a powerful tool to identify targets for drug development, sifting through biological data to locate suitable proteins to target. This process would previously have been slow and laborious, but can now be done more efficiently, helping new drugs be discovered and come to market more quickly.
AI enables the rapid processing of data from all relevant industry sectors. This tool could lead to the discovery of creative and innovative new technologies by identifying patterns not visible to the human eye. Instead of relying on an inventor to have a big idea, or, as in the case of the microwave, Velcro and penicillin – a serendipitous accident – AI could be a significant aid to product development, with nothing left to chance.