Imagine – Artificial Intelligence in Emergency Management

When it comes to Artificial intelligence, there are many perspectives on how this will impact our world. Some picture a dooms-day scenario while others paint a picture of a general AI that augments our own intelligence and helps us achieve things that today we would say is impossible. Ray Kurzweil believes that by 2025, we will have a general AI similar to JARVIS in Iron Man. Kurzweil further believes that by 2030 we will be able to connect our brain directly to the cloud.

I first got a glimpse into this when I went to check on my then, 8-year-old son, who was in his room practicing reading. As I approached his room, I overheard him asking Alexa (his amazon echo AI) how to spell a word. He gave her the letters and she told him what it spelled and he carried on. According to Kurzweil and others, when my son reaches 21, he will have access to all the information he currently gets from the internet, directly into his thoughts. Impossible you say!

Two years ago, I gave the eulogy at my grandmothers funeral. She was 99.  When preparing, I went back and looked at what her life was like in 1917. If you could actually travel back and tell people that in 2018, you will have a little black box in your pocket, that collects invisible waves and allows you to see and talk to people anywhere on the planet, they would have declared you insane. This technology we take for granted today would have been seen as magic back then.

Not long after that, I presented to a group in Penticton, British Columbia. I had used a bot (simplified AI program but not true AI) that could respond to your voice commands. We were going to use this so people could do safety check-ins with a simple command, “Athena, check me in”. Unfortunately, I decided to be creative and added a script that included answering questions for a team fixing an inspection hatch, commonly referred to as a manhole ( I would pay dearly for this politically incorrect oversight), on a busy street. Here is what happened when I opened the YodelME app and spoke to the bot..

Me: Athen, check me in.

Bot: You are checked-in. What can I help with next? (The timer on the YodelME app reset for two hours. So far, so good!)

Me: I am fixing a manhole.

This is where Athena was supposed to ask if the worker had read the procedure and offer to call a local traffic control company. Instead, Athena repeated several times, on speaker, “You’re fixing a man whore?!” Athena is no longer with the company..

The crazy thing is that technology is progressing at an alarming rate. Kurzweil calls this the Law of Accelerating Returns. It says the rate of change in a wide variety of evolutionary systems (including but not limited to the growth of technologies) tends to increase exponentially.

Humans are generally very poor at predicting the future. It is easy to assume that what we have today will only improve incrementally and next year will look just like today. According to Kurzweil’s law, technology is growing exponentially. This means that we are doubling the rate of progress every decade, we’ll see a century of progress–at today’s rate–in only 25 calendar years!

Why am I writing about this? Why should you consider this now? Well, if you are an emergency manager and investing in technology, it would be prudent to understand where we are going and invest in a technology strategy that is not going to be redundant in the near future. If you wait and try to catch up you will always be where your peers were when they started and not where they are in that present moment.

” I skate to where the puck is going, not to where it has been” – Wayne Gretzky

In the following set of blog posts, I am hoping you will be open to the question, What if? and my thought experiment into possible implications of the advancement of technology. Things like robotics, autonomous vehicles, the blockchain, virtual reality and more.

So, let’s start with AI! Famous entrepreneur and founder of SpaceX and Tesla, Elon Musk and others claim that AI will be the most game-changing technology in the history of the human race. Already, AI bots such as SIRI and Alexa provide the world’s information, on demand. Okay, so they are far from perfect today, but what about when it doubles in capability?

Tony Robbins, just announced that he created an AI that consumed his entire “body of work” and can now deliver his content, understand his thinking and provide coaching just like he can. For the people that pay over a million dollars a year for his advice and guidance, this will be available at a tiny fraction of the cost.

I can imagine a world where AI can predict and model the fire, flood, and earthquake with amazing precision. It will use superior sensor data to monitor, measure and learn from the incident and all other incidents and improve it’s performance the next time. Emergency managers will have almost perfect knowledge of what is happening and make decisions based on the collective experience of emergency managers for all over the planet, past, and present. The Incident Commander will compress their OODA Loop to real-time and the financial burden of these disasters will drop to a fraction of what it is today.

How do you get there?

It is simple, in my opinion. Invest in technology platforms for your operations that have the potential to compound in performance and leverage the convergence of other exponential technologies.

So, where will you be when these types of innovations become available? In line to pilot the system and assess the benefits or waiting until all the kinks are worked out then learning about it? Will you be sticking with the system you invested in today because of your sunk cost? or, will you remain flexible and agile to provide the best possible outcome for the public you serve?