If you’d like some food for thought that you won’t forget in a hurry, just read this paragraph aloud. Statistics show that anyone listening to you will understand per cent of it. Now read it a second time, faster and without worrying about enouncing the words clearly: if configured to do so, the computer in front of you could also understand 95 per cent of what you said, a performance that is on a par with human ability. On top of that (and it makes no difference what language you read it in), the computer will be able to draw conclusions about some of your personality traits from the way you say the words.
This example serves merely to give an idea of the progress that has already been made in Artificial Intelligence, the chosen theme of the first Innovation Community MeetUp of 2019, which was held on 2 April in Madrid. This opportunity for discussion and debate sponsored by our Group was open to the public and broadcast via live stream. The MeetUp saw representatives from large companies, utilities, startups and universities exchange views on the big themes of the future to ensure we grow together and embrace every opportunity offered by technological progress.
Organised by Endesa and Enel Innovation, the event was hosted at the Innovation Hub in the Spanish capital that opened a year and a half ago and forms part of a global network. As Hub manager Fernando Sandoval pointed out in his opening greeting, the Madrid facility was created to attract talent from outside the Group, in line with the guiding principles of open innovation.
During the event, Endesa’s Head of Innovation José Minguez, who previously worked in research and developing neural networks and algorithms, stressed the importance of innovation to the company, which is the Iberian Peninsula’s leading utility with 12 million smart meters installed. Confirming his point, Enel now has nine different innovation communities up and running, with over 200 people working on projects ranging from blockchain to drones, wearable technologies, robotics, energy storage, augmented reality, 3D printing and AI in addition to the newly-formed hydrogen community. This is a process involving many people within the Group in a non-hierarchical way as well as universities, research centres, startups and talented young people from outside the company.
“Artificial Intelligence is offering us incredible opportunities,” said Minguez. “Just think of the progress made in practical applications like language or image recognition.”
His words were echoed by Diego García Morate of Unlimiteck who reminded those present that, after the introduction of deep learning in 2009, computers’ ability to correctly understand human language improved incredibly rapidly with the computer error rate dropping sharply from 21 to the current five per cent which is essentially comparable to human comprehension. This applies even more so to image recognition capabilities: in this case the computer error rate had already fallen to five per cent, the equivalent of the human threshold, by 2015. So the potential is endless.
“At Endesa, for example, we are successfully using neural networks for maintenance work on generation plants,” explained Minguez, “as well as to measure the efficiency levels of gas turbines, create yield simulations, predict possible anomalies and generate usage models that cut fuel consumption, resulting in lower emissions, financial savings and improved capabilities for predicting malfunctions.”
But that is not all. Artificial Intelligence and machine learning are also used for flow analysis and predictive maintenance for smart grids, resulting in better service quality and an overall improvement in grid operations. Also on the distribution front, the extraordinary possibilities being offered by deep learning are being exploited to detect losses occurring during energy distribution. Lastly, Minguez reiterated that “applying Artificial Intelligence to the creation of models that predict demand on the energy purchasing market allowed us to cut imbalance costs by over 10 million euros in 2018.”
Artificial Intelligence is also used to improve efficiency, customer experience and create value in customer service. Jorge Honorio Domínguez González, Head of Partner Management and the IT Contact Centre at Endesa, explained how, in the first quarter after its introduction, the new virtual assistant dealt with 61,000 problem reports from customers, resolving 39,000 without requiring any further intervention.
“The great physicist Stephen Hawking warned that Artificial Intelligence might spell the end of the human race,” said Minguez. “I don’t believe that such an extreme prophecy is true but we certainly do need to proceed with great caution. Our approach to developing new products and services based on these technologies is founded on the conviction that they have to make the future better for everyone whilst simultaneously growing the business. If innovation is not underpinned by such a vision, it would be difficult for it to actually help people.”
“That is why we are here together,” concluded Minguez. “Because ‘together’ is the key word. It is the best way to continue to advance, ensuring that Artificial Intelligence brings only benefits. As Henry Ford said: ‘Coming together is the beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.‘”