Hong Kong’s metro is one of the most profitable, efficient systems in the world, being on time nearly 99.9% of the time. Reason being in part because it has an algorithm that schedules and manages its nightly engineering work more efficiently than any human could possibly do.
The Hong Kong’s metro’s algorithm does the nearly impossible task of assigning approximately 10,000 workers to handle more than 2,500 engineering tasks every week. If left up to humans, such a feat would require an entire panel of human minds two days to strategize, plan, and execute.
The AI calculates the most efficient assignments while adapting to new information in just a matter of seconds. With smarter assigning, engineers have more time to completely their nightly duties. On average, the AI saves two days worth of time, and allows engineers to have about 30 minutes more to complete their tasks. This efficient assigning saves the MTR Corporation, who owns the system, a whopping $800,000 a year.
MTR also runs systems in London, Melbourne, Stockholm, and Beijing. After the success of Hong Kong’s AI overseer, MTR is now planning to roll out similar algorithms in its other metros.
“It will probably be Beijing first,” says Andy Chan, who designed the AI system. “Before AI, they would have a planning session with experts from five or six different areas,” he says. “It was pretty chaotic. Now they just reveal the plan on a huge screen.”
However, there is a bit of stigma going against the algorithm. People simply don’t trust artificial intelligence the same way they trust human ingenuity.
“People get scared when you talk to them about AI,” says Adel Sadek, a transport engineer at the University of Buffalo in New York. “A Department of Transport official is responsible for lives, they want to see how the decisions are being made.”
Yet, people trust algorithms every day. Every time they use Google to search, its PageRank algorithm hands them billions of results relevant to their search. Each time someone uses Netflix, its algorithm suggests movies and TV shows that it thinks the user would like based on their viewing history. Lonely singles use online dating using sites like OkCupid to find compatible companions based off of the site’s match algorithm.
Algorithms have become so integral to our culture that social networking giant Facebook recently got into hot water for tinkering with their newsfeed algorithm as part of a social experiment. What’s interesting there is that the study showed how Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm could have a direct effect on users’ moods.
“Algorithms are the foundation of everything useful, engaging or interesting online. They are how related data becomes useful to us as users. Your favorite dating app, your favorite search engine, and even your favorite market indexes are managed, crunched, predicted, and experienced through some of the most powerful algorithms around.” states Tom Ajello, Founder of Makeable
What’s clear is that algorithms have already become an important part of our lives. With the success of Chan’s algorithmic AI, it’s likely that we can expect to interact with them outside of cyberspace — in the real world. Though many are skeptical of AIs at best, it’s very likely that over the next few years, more algorithms will appear in the real world, and become part of people’s every day lives, as has happened in Hong Kong.