Alan Bates headshot Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning are redefining the way we live and work, allowing us to automate processes and enhance productivity. These new technologies create the need for skilled engineers with an understanding of their applications and intricacies.  
 
In September 2019 Alan embarked on a first-of its-kind Masters programme to explore the transformational potential of Applied Artificial Intelligence for industry. 
 
The course, delivered by Cranfield University was developed in collaboration with Professor Nick Colosimo, a leading technologist from BAE Systems and Visiting Professor to the University. 
 
Alan explained how the course has helped him, not only in his own career development, but in creating a community of experts for the business.  A community that is already bringing innovative solutions back to the business.  
 
Alan is currently in the third and final year of his studies and is starting work on his final project, a dissertation which carries a large chunk of his final score.  Alan is looking to explore the sustainability of AI.   A subject he’s been thinking about for a while.  With so much talk about needing increased computing power for an increasingly complex environment, what would the impact of all of this increased amount of processing and data mean for sustainability?   How do we make sure the AI solutions we develop are as efficient as possible?  Are we thinking far enough ahead to how we can power and store all of this data? 
 
Hand points to digital recycling logo
 
Of course, Alan isn’t the first person to think about this.  A recent report by the Institute of Engineering and Technology highlighted the impact of data stored on our phones contributing over 355,000 tonnes of CO2 every year through unwanted pictures alone.   Three years ago Microsoft sank a data centre off the coast of Orkney in a wild experiment.  That data centre has now been retrieved from the ocean floor, and Microsoft researchers are assessing how it has performed, and what they can learn from it about energy efficiency.
 
Alan said “I found myself increasingly wondering – what about sustainability in AI?  As a business we’ve built a reputation on our ability to develop complicated models to solve complicated problems.  How do we balance this with our Company commitment to sustainability and a Net Zero target for our operations by 2030?”
 
It’s a massive subject, and Alan is the first to admit that nobody has all the answers.  But asking these questions, and factoring them into our approach sets us on the right path to deliver sustainable AI. 
 
He added “As part of my research, I’ll be addressing questions such as ‘how can we measure this?’ and ‘what can we do differently in the way we design models?’.   One thought Alan had was to revisit the way we approached programming in the 1970s as a starting point to help us go ‘back to basics’.   He adds “We might want to think about how we can use AI in a way that can tell us how to write green AI.  Allowing the model to tell us what kind of model you might want to write”.
 
The MSc has brought Alan into contact with engineers from across the business to wrestle with these important issues and to explore and exchange ideas on a regular basis.    It was as a result of bringing together that diverse thinking and experience that led to the creation of a new AI solution for manual handling.   A solution that was developed as a 2nd year group project and that has found its way to being a demonstration unit in Factory of the Future at Warton with support from Cranfield University.
Image of Nick Colosimo

Interested in AI?

You can also find out more about how AI is shaping our thinking in this interview with Alan’s fellow cohort members Professor Nick Colosimo and Alex Griffiths.
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Alan Bates

Software Engineer, BAE Systems Air
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