Artificial Intelligence in Forestry: Robots Might Take Over “Boring” Tasks

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Automation is coming for virtually every industry, leaving many people worried about the future of their jobs. Experts say automation could claim as much as 40% of employment opportunities by 2035 – and while we’r not quite there yet, forestry companies in places like Sweden are already bringing in robots to do certain tasks. The good news is that so far, those tasks are only the most “boring” jobs that humans just don’t want to do.

According to Bloomberg, packaging maker BillerudKorsnas AB is one such early adopter of AI in the industry, using robots to analyze thousands of diagrams to determine the amount of time needed to cook its wood chips before they turn into pulp. The process could be done manually, they say, but it’s mind-numbingly repetitive and demands a lot of focus.

“A machine can review large data quantities and find patterns in ways we humans just find too boring,” Olle Steffner, director of intellectual property management, said. “Tasks such as monitoring processes or analyzing diagrams will hardly be missed by anybody. Our staff is needed for other things.”

It’s no surprise that industries like retail, banking and technology are on the forefront of the move toward artificial intelligence, but those carrying out more “traditional” processes – like, for example, growing, harvesting and processing wood – are slower to adapt. However, there are plenty of complex tasks that companies are starting to believe might be better carried out by AI. Sweden’s largest forest owner, Sveaskog AB, is using AI to find signs of spruce bark beetle attacks on satellite photos of forests. Paper company Store Enso Oyj is teaching an algorithm to identify risks in its many contracts, eliminating thousands of hours of legal grunt work.

Making use of cutting-edge technology in the forestry and wood products industries definitely isn’t a bad thing. It has the potential to make many jobs less dangerous, for one thing, and worker safety should always be the top priority of any company. Digital tools are already making it easy to keep forests alive and thriving, tree DNA libraries can help detect illegal logging, and new connected solutions that analyze data and streamline logistics can make mills a lot more efficient.

Top image via Bloomberg

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