Standby for the rise in artificial intelligence as the digital revolution transforms the business model of airports and airlines

There is no doubting that artificial intelligence (AI) will increasingly transform our lives in the years to come from both visible and hidden applications. There are endless ways we could see its usage with daily personal and business tasks, but what exactly is it and how will it likely influence the travel and hospitality sectors.

SITA’s chief data science and AI officer Jean-Paul Isson has penned the first of what will be a series of blog post introducing us to concept and explaining why AI is “super-human at narrow tasks”. Future posts over the coming months will look at AI applications within the passenger and bag journeys, airport and airline operations, ground handling and border management.

We hear a lot about the value of AI – NASA has even used it to discover two new exoplanets – but do we truly understand how it works? Mr Isson describes it simply as “a field of computer science that makes machines smart.”

Effectively it is a machine powered by an algorithm used to solve a specific problem or complete a task that used to be handled by humans”. “These powerful algorithms can process huge amounts of data, and they learn automatically from features and patterns in that data. They apply that knowledge to new inputs to perform human-like tasks,” explains Mr Isson.

It is strongest working as ‘narrow’ or ‘weak’ AI which focuses on carrying out a specific task. ‘general’ or ‘stronger’ AI, when we achieve it, would also exhibit consciousness, along with the ability to think for itself based on self-awareness and genuine intelligence to match human intelligence. “Today’s examples are still narrow AI, because they’re programmed to complete tasks,” says Mr Isson.

The digital revolution is helping drive AI, but the technology has been around in the aviation sector for more than half a century . “Automated systems have been part of aviation for quite some time – auto pilot and flight management, for instance. And now we’re seeing drones and autonomous aircraft,” says Mr Isson.

He describes the industry’s digital transformation as “of vital importance” to AI’s rise in air transport. “This is the most valuable process today for our industry, as has been the case in other industries,” he says, that will “transform the business model of airports and airlines”. Its key components – people, process, big data and more importantly technology – will sharply impact the industry, he explains, and adds that leading industry players are leveraging AI to harness the big data that derives from digital transformation.

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