UPDATED 13:24 EST / FEBRUARY 17 2020


Watch out for robots in the wild: a report from the post-digital near future

Companies still focused on digital transformation are going to need to play catch up. Gone are the days when being digital gave an advantage. Connectivity and accessibility are now base-level expectations.

Welcome to the next era of technology: post-digital. Big data has hooked up with big compute and intelligent analytics, opening the door for artificial intelligence to enter the mainstream. Now, advances in programmable AI are sending robots out into the world to roam free.

“Now that robots are programmable, you can buy them and apply them,” said Teresa Tung (pictured), managing director of Accenture Labs at Accenture LLP. “We’re going to unlock a whole bunch of new use cases beyond just those … that are very strictly designed in a very structured environment to things in an unstructured and semi-structured environment.” 

These aren’t incorporeal robots performing automated tasks invisibly. These are robots as imagined by sci-fi authors — android servants doing those tasks which humans choose to assign them.

“The opportunities for robots are jobs that are dull, dirty or dangerous. These are things that humans don’t want to or shouldn’t be doing,” Tung said. Or you could program the robot to “go get us a beer,” she laughed.  

Tung spoke with Jeff Frick, host of theCUBE, SiliconANGLE Media’s mobile livestreaming studio, during the Accenture Technology Vision event in San Francisco. They discussed the importance of innovation in the workplace and how advances in human-robot interaction are bringing robots into everyday life.

This week theCUBE spotlights Teresa Tung in its Women in Tech feature.

From rhetorics to programmable AI

Technological innovation is the hallmark of Tung’s career. However, engineering wasn’t her first choice. “I thought it was too much of a nerd thing,” she said.

That changed when she took a programming class and discovered that she enjoyed the challenge of creating and building solutions. She changed her field of study at the University of California at Berkeley and gained a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science. Tung continued her studies with the Berkeley EECS department, graduating with both a master’s degree and a doctorate in the field.

After a short internship with Siemens AG, Tung joined Accenture as a manager, working on the company’s Cloud Computing and Green Technology Suites. She was promoted to senior manager, working with the API Industrialization initiative within Accenture Technology Labs’ Next Generation Software Architecture R&D group, and then became a Technology Fellow before taking the reins of Systems & Platforms R&D as a managing director at Accenture Labs.

In a company known for innovation, Tung holds the honor of being Accenture’s most active inventor. She currently has over 180 patents or pending patents to her name, with more in the pipeline. Her work in cloud computing, big data, application interface protocols, edge computing, and the internet of things has contributed to many of the cutting-edge products developed by Accenture.

Tung is currently one of the solution provider finalists for the Internet of Things World 2020 Leader of the Year awards for her “outstanding leadership” in the implementation and success of IoT in the workplace.

Robots go into the wild

As part of the company’s Systems & Platforms R&D Group, Tung is currently focused on advances in blockchain, edge analytics, quantum computing, and enterprise robotics. But her current passion is the intersection of physical robots and AI.

“This is going to allow us to close that sense-analyze-actuate loop,” Tung said. “Now the robot can actually do something based off of the analytics.”

Programmable robots are already at work. “You probably do see them on the streets already,” Tung pointed out. “You see them for security use cases. Maybe mopping up a store [so] the employees can actually focus on the customers. … We see them in the airports. If you pay attention to modern airports, you see robots bringing out the baggage and doing some of the baggage handling.”

The breakthrough allowing robots to step into society is programmable automation. This means robots are not restricted to one task but can be taught to do various jobs, thanks to technology such as navigation and facial recognition.

And anyone can learn to program these robots, according to Tung. “Kids can program these robots, so they’re not hard to do,” she said. “If a kid can do it, maybe somebody who knows oil and gas, insurance, [or] security can actually do the same thing.”

One example Tung gave was of programming a robot to perform a delivery task using a video game joystick-style controller. “You map a scene by using that controller to drive the robot around … [and] the AI algorithm is smart enough to create the map,” she said.

The robot then “knows” the route and can repeat the task without supervision. Anyone who can play a video game can do this, according to Tung. “So, when your kid’s playing games, they’re actually training for on the job skills!” she said.

Democratized access to AI leads to more diversity of ideas

This ability to program a robot using a joystick is an example of how access to high-level technology is being democratized, creating a more level playing field and reducing reliance on elusive and costly experts.

“Before, you had to be a programmer to be able to even access the systems in which data is housed. Then you needed to be a data scientist to be able to make sense of the data to see what patterns exist,” Tung explained.

New advancements make it easier for companies and individuals to access these technologies. Which in turn brings a more diverse mindset to the field. That means more ways of looking at problems and different ideas on how to solve them.

“We’re no longer limiting it to scale that only a certain number of experts who are trained and data science or coding could do,” Tung said. “Now we’re opening it to the imaginations of many people who face real problems today.”

With the possibilities of infinite compute, infinite storage, and infinite bandwidth on the horizon, Tung sees unlimited potential for creativity.

“I watch things like ‘Harry Potter,’ and you think about they know these spells and they can get things to happen,” she said. “I think that’s exactly where we are now. I get to do all these things that are magic.”

Here’s the complete video interview, part of SiliconANGLE’s and theCUBE’s coverage of the recent Accenture Technology Vision event.

Photo: SiliconANGLE

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