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The AI Boss That Deploys Hong Kong's Subway Engineers

samzenpus posted about 4 months ago | from the running-on-time dept.

AI 162

Taco Cowboy writes The subway system in Hong Kong has one of the best uptimes: 99.9%, which beats London's tube or NYC's sub hands down. In an average week as many as 10,000 people would be carrying out 2,600 engineering works across the system — from grinding down rough rails to replacing tracks to checking for damages. While human workers might be the ones carrying out the work, the one deciding which task is to be worked on, however, isn't a human being at all. Each and every engineering task to be worked on and the scheduling of all those tasks is being handled by an algorithm. Andy Chun of Hong Kong's City University, who designed the AI system, says, "Before AI, they would have a planning session with experts from five or six different areas. It was pretty chaotic. Now they just reveal the plan on a huge screen." Chun's AI program works with a simulated model of the entire system to find the best schedule for necessary engineering works. From its omniscient view it can see chances to combine work and share resources that no human could. However, in order to provide an added layer of security, the schedule generated by the AI is still subject to human approval — Urgent, unexpected repairs can be added manually, and the system would reschedule less important tasks. It also checks the maintenance it plans for compliance with local regulations. Chun's team encoded into machine readable language 200 rules that the engineers must follow when working at night, such as keeping noise below a certain level in residential areas. The main difference between normal software and Hong Kong's AI is that it contains human knowledge that takes years to acquire through experience, says Chun. "We asked the experts what they consider when making a decision, then formulated that into rules – we basically extracted expertise from different areas about engineering works," he says.

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So... (3, Insightful)

benjfowler (239527) | about 4 months ago | (#47399051)

In other words, this is basically Drools, plus a ton of billable consulting hours?

Re:So... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47399079)

They'll taking ul jelbs!

Re:So... (2)

peragrin (659227) | about 4 months ago | (#47399215)

Even better. We are starting to replace PHB's who know next to nothing bit are still in charge.

I can't wait until we can replace lawyers with an abacus and a cukoo-clock.

Re:So... (5, Insightful)

Shoten (260439) | about 4 months ago | (#47399243)

In other words, this is basically Drools, plus a ton of billable consulting hours?

Actually, it's probably something more like TIBCO BusinessEvents with an orchestration engine added. But what's really cool is that they did the hard part: codifying the actual rules under which the overall system operates. That's where these kinds of systems either fly or fall. There are tons of rules that organizations use to make decisions, but a lot of those rules are quite informal and don't operate at a central point of authority. It takes a lot of digging to find them all, so that the undocumented process (for example) used by the foreman of the team that does rail maintenance to manage overtime among his crew gets incorporated into the overall chaining logic. Otherwise, the new system will either fail to reflect reality as teams rearrange their own schedules out of sync with their directives, or will wreak havoc among the employees.

Re:So... (5, Insightful)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 4 months ago | (#47399287)

Actually, it's probably something more like TIBCO BusinessEvents with an orchestration engine added

Back in my time, we called what they have done now "an expert system". I fail to see why that designation should be suddenly inadequate.

Re:So... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47399625)

I, for one, like to become sufficiently enraged at least once a day that I feel like kicking someone in the balls. I coded my first expert system in the '80s, and frankly it was so modest and functional that I didn't want to kick anyone. But when you read phrases like:

TIBCO BusinessEvents with an orchestration engine

doesn't it make you want to don your cleats and administer some serious trauma? These days I'm semi-retired, but I'd get out bed to deal with that level of buzzword.

Re:So... (1)

Gothmolly (148874) | about 4 months ago | (#47399637)

Because new, and shiny, and Hong Kong, and Slashdot.

Re:So... (2)

Shoten (260439) | about 4 months ago | (#47399969)

Actually, it's probably something more like TIBCO BusinessEvents with an orchestration engine added

Back in my time, we called what they have done now "an expert system". I fail to see why that designation should be suddenly inadequate.

Because back then, that was a conceptual description that (if it became real) described an entirely custom system that was built from the ground up. These days, there are multiple types of such systems, most of which are built along specific architectural lines using COTS. Just like once upon a time, "car" was a pretty good descriptor because the next level of detail went WAY into the weeds. Now, there are sports cars, SUVs, minivans, coupes, etc.

Re:So... (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about 4 months ago | (#47400525)

Back in my time, we called what they have done now "an expert system". I fail to see why that designation should be suddenly inadequate.

Part of building an expert system is getting expert input, but that doesn't mean that everything with expert input is "an expert system." Hopefully everything you build gets input from experts (that is, from the ones who know what the system should do; that could be you or the users).

Re:So... (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 4 months ago | (#47400829)

True, but if it encodes expert knowledge so as to emulate an expert's decision using some kind of inference engine using that knowledge database, it does definitely qualify as an expert system, wouldn't you say? (At least as having an expert system component, if that's not all there is to the particular larger system.)

Re:So... (1)

tomhath (637240) | about 4 months ago | (#47400725)

Back in my time, we called what they have done now "an expert system". I fail to see why that designation should be suddenly inadequate.

"Artificial Intelligence" predates "expert system", there was never a good reason to use a different term. Plus there was so much unfulfilled hype about Expert Systems and Knowledge Engineering back in their heyday that the terms have a negative connotation to many people.

Re:So... (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 4 months ago | (#47400939)

Because it's using its rules to make decisions that humans wouldn't have thought of.
Where is an expert system is just the same things humans would have done, just automated and faster.

Re:So... (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 4 months ago | (#47399865)

Right, we use similar software to dispatch field techs. Techs all have company smartphones now, they dont even come into work unless they need supplies. We wrote an app that figures out where they are and where the closest job is to them. They head over there, do their work, update the ticket with any changes they made so records can be updated and it then gives them the next closest. The productivity increases were staggering and there were even other benefits like decrease vehicle wear and such, but calling it an "AI" is a bit of a joke. It's just some clever rule sets and scripting.

Re:So... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47399963)

The rule sets. That's the hardest part. Get the rules right and you have a winner. Get them wrong and the software will be scrapped faster than you can say "it's a pile of crap!"

Re:So... (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 4 months ago | (#47400155)

Does that look at traffic as well?

Some times it can be better to let the tech see the full job list and plan there own day based on local info.

Re:So... (2)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 4 months ago | (#47400233)

Does that look at traffic as well?

Some times it can be better to let the tech see the full job list and plan there own day based on local info.

It still needs to get fixed either way, but yes the tech can skip a job. There are stats involved so if you skip lots of them you're going to have to explain why. The rulesets are somewhat complicated, it doesn't just pick the closest one... How old is the ticket? Is it a major piece of equipment? Etc... They can even merge the tickets on the fly... are these 10 sites out of service because of that other ticket down the line? etc...

This isn't a small system. It manages hundreds of techs all over the country and there's a backend of engineers, ticket jockies, records keepers, mapping engineers, facility techs, etc... I'm pretty sure all companies that maintain large networks of equipment operate this way now. I can guarantee you UPS and Fedex have similar systems, as well as the power companies, railroads, etc... I even saw a heavy equipment manufacturer that used such a system to dispatch their service techs to do repairs on customers bulldozers and such.

This is how dispatching works now, that's why this stories funny. It would be more of a story if they were doing something different.

Re:So... (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 4 months ago | (#47400309)

But still you can have 2 tickets and due to traffic you can get to one site right away and the other will take 1 hour to get to but after going to one site traffic frees up and you can get to that 1 hour site in to 10-20 min.

Re:So... (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 4 months ago | (#47401067)

SO your system will dispatch people in a way no human would of thought of?
Sending out nearby jobs is a lot different then taking every rule into account and letting the system dictate which jobs to do in what order even if on initially glance it doesn't seem to make sense.

I've seen some of these system, and the word that often comes tom mind when trying to pick apart why it makes certian decsions is 'creepy'
Simple example.
Why did it move a crew across town instead of doing a nearby jobs. seems broken, crew overrides, works nearby..
Turns out, due to a locate that needs to be done by a completely different organization, and the times the bridge will be up makes being able to do that work at that time unlikely. So it choose to have the crew do it a weak sooner.
Thing like that but with 100 or more variables.

The organization no longer allow the people to over ride the work except for safety or equipment issues. They have since not needed to rehire 4 FTEs becasue the work is that much more efficient.

Like I said. Creepy.

I've seen sand boxed system running many threads of the same software and emergent behavior arise that made part of me want to unplug the computer and run for the hills!

Good (4, Insightful)

kruach aum (1934852) | about 4 months ago | (#47399053)

Everything currently run by committee should ideally be run by an AI with limited human oversight in the future. Groups of humans suck at the two things AIs are great at: remembering things and making decisions.

Re: Good (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47399105)

All decision makers should be replaced with AI!

Re: Good (4, Funny)

kruach aum (1934852) | about 4 months ago | (#47399117)

That sounds suspiciously like a decision to me, comrade. Do you have documentation signifying that you are 100% pure AI?

Re: Good (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47400053)

AI segregator!

Re: Good (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47399315)

All women should be replaced with sexbots!

Re: Good (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 4 months ago | (#47399319)

All decision makers should be replaced with AI!

You're making a very important decision here. Have you consulted it with your AI?

Re:Good (1)

DutchUncle (826473) | about 4 months ago | (#47401063)

Isaac Asimov, the Machines in "The Evitable Conflict", 1950. James Blish, the City Fathers of "Cities in Flight", 1957. Christopher Anvil, the Symbiotic Computers of the Interstellar Patrol, various stories, 1960s.

The AI usually takes over. For our own good, of course, in the most loving and paternal way.

I can't imagine something like that in the U.S.A. (3, Insightful)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 4 months ago | (#47399057)

Laws, paperwork, unions, paperwork, regulations and paperwork wouldn't allow this to happen.

Re:I can't imagine something like that in the U.S. (4, Insightful)

oodaloop (1229816) | about 4 months ago | (#47399083)

I dunno. If a corporation smells a profit in it, then I think they'll find a way.

Re:I can't imagine something like that in the U.S. (5, Insightful)

i kan reed (749298) | about 4 months ago | (#47399225)

Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight. It's those unions. Those ones whose membership has been steadily and measurably been decreasing for 30 years(almost exactly at the same rate as wage stagnation occurs, as a complete coincidence).

How small does Snowball's organization have to get before you stop believing he's behind everything?

Re:I can't imagine something like that in the U.S. (1)

russotto (537200) | about 4 months ago | (#47399805)

Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight. It's those unions. Those ones whose membership has been steadily and measurably been decreasing for 30 years(almost exactly at the same rate as wage stagnation occurs, as a complete coincidence).

Public service unions are the major exception; the general decline is irrelevant when US mass transit is still almost completely union.

Re:I can't imagine something like that in the U.S. (1)

tepples (727027) | about 4 months ago | (#47400123)

the general decline is irrelevant when US mass transit is still almost completely union.

Except for the decline in mass transit itself. It starts by eliminating Sunday service, then nights, then Saturday evenings, then Saturday service at all in the outskirts, and you end up getting one bus an hour if you're lucky.

Re:I can't imagine something like that in the U.S. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47400183)

Your emotions on unions are irrelevant. Do you have any proof that unions would be heavily against replacing non-union management with a small shell script?

Im a union rep (1)

voss (52565) | about 4 months ago | (#47400781)

If they started replacing management with expert systems that gave us
a) Increased autonomy
b) more pay (fewer managers and less dead weight at the top has to mean a few more dollars available for the rest of us)
c) Fewer stupid irrational decisions made for political reasons

Not only would you not hear a peep.
The computer would probably get presents on boss'es day.

Re:I can't imagine something like that in the U.S. (2)

CRCulver (715279) | about 4 months ago | (#47399905)

Not to mention that high-performing metro systems worldwide are highly unionized.

Re: I can't imagine something like that in the U.S (1)

alen (225700) | about 4 months ago | (#47399367)

And nimbys

Anytime the NYC subway wants to shut down part of the system for maintenance, everyone complains and runs to their local political boss

Same in Long Island for the lirr. They are building a second track in a large part of the system and people who drive don't want the extra trains because it will make them wait longer at crossings

Re: I can't imagine something like that in the U.S (1)

DutchUncle (826473) | about 4 months ago | (#47401111)

OTOH the "Fast Track" programs have become more popular (or at least less disliked) because they demonstrably *work*. Close down a line for a long weekend and the job gets done, rather than "overnights only" taking multiple weeks. Some tasks just can't be done halfway.

Re:I can't imagine something like that in the U.S. (2)

PPH (736903) | about 4 months ago | (#47399981)

Of course not for somthing as critical as maintenance planning and scheduling. But its OK for air traffic control [wikipedia.org] functions. Where the consequences [dailymail.co.uk] of a bad rule set are not nearly as serious.

Re:I can't imagine something like that in the U.S. (1)

aaronb1138 (2035478) | about 4 months ago | (#47400017)

Unions. The word you are looking for is unions will never allow their work to be parsed by an AI that might increase productivity and might discern when crews are slacking and wasting time.

Re:I can't imagine something like that in the U.S. (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 4 months ago | (#47401105)

I'm in a union, and we do this. So you are wrong.

Re:I can't imagine something like that in the U.S. (1)

rsilvergun (571051) | about 4 months ago | (#47400541)

After 30 years of off shoring Unions are weak and ineffective in America. Laws can and will be changed. Paperwork can be automated and digitally stored and regulators can be captured.

The reason you're not seeing this in America is the top 1% won't pay the taxes for the infrastructure development, and they've got all the money. 1%ers don't use the subway...

Re:I can't imagine something like that in the U.S. (1)

DutchUncle (826473) | about 4 months ago | (#47401083)

The union crews work a given number of hours. Assigning them what to work on each day would be perfectly normal.

Re:I can't imagine something like that in the U.S. (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 4 months ago | (#47401085)

We already have it. Let's not allow facts and logic to actually change your narrative, you just go on being stupid.

Expert System (5, Insightful)

DontBlameCanada (1325547) | about 4 months ago | (#47399089)

This is a perfect example of an Expert System [wikipedia.org] .

Expert Systems have been one of the most successful and longest used AI models in industry. FPGA routing and layout programs have relied on this form of AI since the early/mid 90's.

Re:Expert System (1)

TWX (665546) | about 4 months ago | (#47399183)

And here I was thinking it sounded like Alpha Complex.

Maybe a little paranoia once in awhile isn't such a bad thing.

Re:Expert System (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about 4 months ago | (#47399193)

Don't worry, you can trust the computer.

Re:Expert System (1)

jellomizer (103300) | about 4 months ago | (#47399363)

To much Science Fiction and not enough Science Fact.
A common theme in Science Fiction is the idea that technology will replace humans, which is often true. However most SciFi usually takes this idea and follows the slippery slop to a far more interesting to read, but most likely not possible worst case situation.

SciFi books about say a middle grade analyst having to change careers in his mid 40's because technology had made his current job obsolete. Is rather dull. But if that system some how became the all knowing overlord, picking who lives and who lives on a global scale. Now that is interesting, and allows conflict with a rag tag team of Humans in their seemingly impossible task in out thinking the super computer.

When you read a cautionary tail, it isn't about stopping progress, but opening your mind to other options, if these options are bad, put insurances to protect the bad stuff from happening.

Re:Expert System (1)

Joe Gillian (3683399) | about 4 months ago | (#47399513)

(Disclaimer: I am not a fiction writer)

I could totally see an interesting book about a middle-grade analyst having to change careers because his job gets taken over by a computer. It would start with the analyst, who is pretty much coasting through his career trying to hit retirement, the work so routine that he can do it in his sleep, going into the office one day and seeing a bunch of his friends, people he entered the workforce with, leaving with their personal effects in boxes, their jobs having been taken over by computers. He's still got employment for a while longer, because after all, the company needs someone versed in the old ways while they get the system fully set up and functional.

A few weeks pass, and the analyst watches as the people he used to work with change - some of them get jobs at other, less-advanced firms, becoming the office dinosaur. Others go into full mid-life crises because they realize that their skillset is now completely obsolete, and wind up going nuts like Michael Douglas in Falling Down.

The analyst, realizing that he doesn't want to be either of those things, tries to find another way out. He takes some classes, meets some people in the same situation he's in, meets some new people, and tries his hand at any number of careers, finding out that more and more of the job opportunities are being taken over by machines. Eventually, he meets a younger minority girl who starts teaching him how to program, and in a "second coming of age" moment reinvents himself as a computer programmer. By the end, he gets a job at his old firm, this time as a coder working with the automated system who replaced him in his first job.

I've seen worse movie plots.

Re:Expert System (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47399597)

By the end, he gets a job at his old firm, this time as a coder working with the automated system who replaced him in his first job.,

Epilog: The new job lasts only six weeks because the MBAs decided to farm all the coding out to Mumbai.

Re:Expert System (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47400085)

You insensitive clod - that's not a plot, that's my life! (except for the part about meeting a young girl. That part is pure fantasy)

Re:Expert System (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47399835)

To me, it seems more like the scifi story Manna

http://marshallbrain.com/manna1.htm

Re:Expert System (-1)

Arker (91948) | about 4 months ago | (#47399259)

You beat me to it, but that was exactly what I was thinking.

Everything old is new again, you just have to wait for it to go out of fashion for a couple years and give it a new name.

Re:Expert System (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47399317)

That's because you were busying typing the teletext tag to make your comment less readable

Re:Expert System (1)

GTRacer (234395) | about 4 months ago | (#47399737)

Yeah, but couldn't you totally hear the ka-chukka sound of the impact printer as you read it? Ahh, nostalgia...

Re:Expert System (3, Insightful)

CastrTroy (595695) | about 4 months ago | (#47399399)

I don't even know if I'd classify something like this as "AI". It's just running an algorithm using lots of information and doing complex calculations. Way more complex than any person could do, but they are not the kind of actions I would generally consider "intelligent". Efficient allocation of resources works great for computers, because they aren't biased. They don't give their friends extra shifts or wait until later to call in a repair crew because the didn't like the attitude of the person who reported the problem.

Re:Expert System (3, Interesting)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 4 months ago | (#47399945)

I don't even know if I'd classify something like this as "AI". It's just running an algorithm using lots of information and doing complex calculations. Way more complex than any person could do, but they are not the kind of actions I would generally consider "intelligent".

It is a curse for the field of AI that it's generally defined quite vaguely as "trying to do things in computers that humans do better than computers". Why, so many things people consider "not AI" today are commonplace precisely because AI researchers dedicated a lot of their time to solving them! Once you solve an AI problem, in minds of many people, it ceases to be not only a problem, but also a matter for AI. The area in question is known as "automated planning and scheduling", and the reason why you don't think it should be classified as AI is to a large extent because it was the AI researchers who largely solved it back in the 1970s or so.

Re:Expert System (3, Insightful)

blackiner (2787381) | about 4 months ago | (#47400219)

Reminds me of how my AI professor described AI. You have two types of AI, strong and weak, strong being something akin to a conscious thinking mind (and not even guaranteed to be possible at the moment), and weak being stuff like data mining, translation, speech-to-text, puzzle solvers, etc. She also let us know that things are only considered AI until they are solved, then they are just 'algorithms', which I think mirrors people's perceptions of AI quite nicely.

Re:Expert System (1)

DutchUncle (826473) | about 4 months ago | (#47401145)

Not unlike philosophy. When philosophy answers one of its nagging questions, suddenly it becomes math or logic or science.

Re:Expert System (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47400403)

The curse of AI: artificial-intelligence.com/comic/7 [artificial...igence.com]

Re:Expert System (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 4 months ago | (#47401137)

You don't consider it intelligent becasue you have tricked yourself into thinking you understand it.

Re:Expert System (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | about 4 months ago | (#47399561)

Yes, the math behind the system in TFA was discovered by none other than John Von Neumann [wikipedia.org] , who is also credited with inventing the aritechture that all modern computers are based on. FPGA routing and layout design uses path finding algorithms, the similarity is that they are both optimisers. MinMax, path finding and other optimization algorithms are all part of a branch of maths called Operations Research, or simply "logistics" to Americans. It gained it's original name and it's connection with computers during WW2.

I helped build a dispatch system similar to the one in TFA for a large telco in the 90's that planned and dispatched jobs for 6,000 linesmen and technicians. The thing spent all night calculating the most efficient plan only to have a half dozen PHB's screw it up at 5am with unwritten rules such as Senator Dick Waver needs his phone fixed now! It would then spend all day trying to work around their manual overrides via 2min partial optimization runs. That $100M system would now run on a cheap laptop. It's grandchild is still a "mission critical" system but I imagine the PHB's have got enough hardware grunt to recalculate on the fly these days.

To be honest efficient planning wasn't the original reason they implemented the system, getting the workers into a company van they could take home (union), with a laptop and phone backed by automated dispatching (engineering), meant they (PHB's) could sell $600M of prime real estate the (ex-government) depots had been sitting on for over half a century.

Re:Expert System (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47400261)

I heard your mom has relied on this form of AI since the early/mid 90's.

Maybe not a conventional expert system? (2)

kurisuto (165784) | about 4 months ago | (#47400757)

The article says that they're using a genetic algorithm. I'm no expert at AI, but my understanding is that an ordinary expert system doesn't use a genetic algorithm; an expert system just involves percolating propositions through a bunch of human-specified if/then statements.

I'd hazard a guess that the system described here is using the human-specified rules as part of the fitness function for the genetic algorithm. That's one way a system could use human-specified rules, but I think it's different from how an ordinary expert system uses them.

If you can call this an "expert system", then at a minimum, it looks like it's pushing the boundaries of the definition of "expert system".

Management is becoming obsolete (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47399137)

What we see now are the first steps towards making a big chunk of management obsolete. Expert systems are well on their way to out-compete managers who in many situations cannot make decisions of the same quality as an AI. Or to put it differently: An AI can make better decisions than a human in many areas. And in these areas humans (managers) will not be able to compete.

Re:Management is becoming obsolete (1)

ZeroPly (881915) | about 4 months ago | (#47400187)

You are conflating management with leadership. Expert systems can handle a lot of the logistics, but they can't determine that Billy Bob had a rough 4th of July weekend, and it would be best to have him do his paperwork today instead of working on the electrical junction box that has water damage.

Re:Management is becoming obsolete (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 4 months ago | (#47401149)

"but they can't determine that Billy Bob had a rough 4th of July weekend, and it would be best to have him do his paperwork today instead of working on the electrical junction box that has water damage."

Says who?

Re:Management is becoming obsolete (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47400205)

No, what you see here is a disaster in the making.
When something unexpected will happen, the AI's limited decision set will not be enough. I'm not saying that it might cause problems directly, but it will not be making any decisions that should be made. A human is flexible, a human can learn, and in this case, you'll have a lot of humans that haven't learned anything because they "delegated" everything to a super-advanced bash script.

Remember the old "Error: keyboard not detected. Press any key to continue"?

The Computer is Your Friend (2)

jovius (974690) | about 4 months ago | (#47399187)

"People get scared when you talk to them about AI,"

Team Leader, please report to the debriefing room ASAP.

So they built an expert system. (1)

Mysticalfruit (533341) | about 4 months ago | (#47399253)

This is far more common then you would imagine... The fact it's being applied to a subway system in this manner is pretty novel.

Re:So they built an expert system. (1)

nospam007 (722110) | about 4 months ago | (#47399989)

"This is far more common then you would imagine... The fact it's being applied to a subway system in this manner is pretty novel."

Every railway that deserves its name uses something like that.
Even if their 'underground' lines are shorter than a subway, which is the only distinction I can see.

Also usually when you make 'noise' at night, above-ground is usually more problematic than 20 feet below the street level in a tunnel.

It's sad when (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47399265)

I have to see /. content two days after I saw it on reddit.

Re:It's sad when (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47400457)

You must be sad constantly then.

It's here already? (3, Insightful)

Ken_g6 (775014) | about 4 months ago | (#47399299)

Is it called Manna? [marshallbrain.com]

Re:It's here already? (1)

LordLimecat (1103839) | about 4 months ago | (#47399373)

Its kind of hard to take seriously a story that basically talks about how communism will fix everything. We tried it; before it was called "the Australia Project", it went by "the China project" and "the Soviet project".

I wont spoil the endings; you can read about it on wikipedia [wikipedia.org] .

Re:It's here already? (1)

nedlohs (1335013) | about 4 months ago | (#47399437)

Please provide some more details about "The Australia Project", which I guess was Australia's famous experiment with communism that somehow no one has ever heard of?

Re:It's here already? (2)

LordLimecat (1103839) | about 4 months ago | (#47399465)

Its from the story he linked. It posits a future where AI runs the American economy, leading to decidedly mediocre standards for everyone. The alternative posited is "the Australia project' which is basically continent-wide communism due to robot labor, renewable energy, and no pollution.

Its all great sounding stuff, but its also complete nonsense.

Re:It's here already? (1)

IamTheRealMike (537420) | about 4 months ago | (#47400125)

That's not quite how I remember Manna.

The reason the American economy is trashed in the world Manna envisions is not because it's run by an AI but because America failed to adjust to a post-work society. Everyone is on social security/benefits, because hardly anyone has a job as it was all automated away or pirated. So people have a kind of futuristic subsistence lifestyle in which robots attend to their basic needs but they can never get anything more.

The Australia project, on the other hand, is not meant to be communist. It's meant to be a society where your having a job was disconnected from you having social value. It's a society that prioritises leisure time and finds other ways to allocate the few scarce resources that are left in ways that aren't money. Communism as a term is too heavily linked with the real-world implementations in the Soviet union to be useful for describing this state of affairs.

IIRC at the end the story goes off on a bit of a tangent and all the Australians just end up having VR sex all day or something. Not a great ending. But I remember Manna kind of blew my mind when I first read it, and its prediction that robots/computers would replace middle management before the toilet cleaners was (to me) very new and obviously correct. Indeed that's what this story is about.

Re:It's here already? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47400423)

The are several points where Manna runs off the rails, but the one that takes the cake is where the robots hook into your upper spinal column, controlling all input to and output from your brain. After this is explained to the protagonist, he says "Sounds great! Let's do it!". What? What. The. Hell. I can't imagine anybody ever *agreeing* to something like that.

Re:It's here already? (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about 4 months ago | (#47399467)

Next time maybe we can try something that involves actual communism rather than just a communist banner carried by authoritarian thugs. Hint: if members of the government are living substantially better than the poorest members of society, it's not actually communism.

Re:It's here already? (1)

LordLimecat (1103839) | about 4 months ago | (#47399953)

Its a strange thing that Communism tends to be espoused by folks who seem to be well informed and intelligent, but who invariably miss the fact that it attracts the sort of people who make it not work (authoritarians).

Also, Communist China came close. It failed for MANY reasons, and authoritarianism wasnt it. Farmland was redistributed so that farmers could do their farming for all, but farmers tended to sell the farmland for a quick payout. Communal kitchens were set up, but they tended to lower the quality of life for people involved. Systems for generating vast quantities of steel were implemented, but because there was no output--earning link, the steel tended to be worthless pig iron.

People keep saying "it just hasnt been done right" but communism was happening in a very pure form in China for several years after the revolution and it simply doesnt work; people starve to death, well before the Big Bad Authoritarians come in. The fact that they come in eventually is a symptom of the underlying illness. And the worst of the atrocities are due to the fact that Communism requires EVERYONE to buy into the system, which results in things like the killing fields or the Cultural Revolution, necessary to purge those nasty subversive capitalist tendencies.

Theres no way you can cut it where Communism isnt a plague on humanity. People are not fluffy bunnies who have lost their way; they are self-interested, and generally not good folk, and appealing to an economic system that requires selfless devotion to the greater good is a delusional pipe dream.

Re:It's here already? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47400421)

generally not good folk,

I agree with almost all of your post but this: being "self" and "locally" interested - i.e., caring about yourself and your close neighbors, friends, relatives - doesn't mean humans aren't "generally good folk." In fact, it's hard to imagine a definition of "good" that requires a self-abnegating devotion to the slightest whim of any of the 7 billion other people on earth.

The fact that we've been able to build such massive, working societies is an indication that most humans are indeed "generally good folk." Here's a brain buster: why is the "general good and welfare" of 7 billion other random people more important than my own? What makes them more important, if we're positing that the measure of a "good" person relies on selfless devotion to the welfare of "everybody who isn't me?"

Re:It's here already? (1)

LordLimecat (1103839) | about 4 months ago | (#47400539)

If you're using the word "good" (in the moral sense) to mean "things that benefit me", you have made it meaningless. People talk of the holocaust being "bad", even if it did not personally affect them; but by your meaning you simply wouldnt attach any moral judgement to it unless you happened to be a Jew or Romani.

Re:It's here already? (1)

FriendlyStatistician (2652203) | about 4 months ago | (#47400027)

But now we have robots! Surely the problem with previous attempts was simply a lack of technology and resources which we have now solved.

Re:It's here already? (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about 4 months ago | (#47400589)

That story bugs me, not the technology or anything. Just the fact that he spends the first 40% of it lamenting how bad things are and how the wealthy just want to live their life of leisure and leave everyone else to rot in the slums. Then the main character suddenly becomes fabulously wealthy and... leaves everyone else to rot in the slums while he farms... I guess... No one, not even the "good guys" with essentially limitless resources actually tries to change the system that is leaving 99% of humanity living in abject poverty with no hope of escape.

Less bureaucracy? (1)

SeanInSeattle (1631449) | about 4 months ago | (#47399387)

I would like to know how much efficiency was gained as a result of getting rid of the bureaucracy. That alone must have been worth quite a bit.

Re:Less bureaucracy? (1)

bickerdyke (670000) | about 4 months ago | (#47399777)

For that the reading recommendation would be "Snow Crash".bureaucracy has not been gotten rid of, but reduced to some insignificant role while the rest of the world is gouverned not by gouvernments or bureacracy, but "business processes" and coorprations and their three-ring-binders with company procedures.

Captured legislature (1)

tepples (727027) | about 4 months ago | (#47400171)

the world is gouverned not by gouvernments or bureacracy, but "business processes" and coorprations and their three-ring-binders with company procedures.

In other words, real life. Who do you think pulls the strings of legislators and regulators?

Soon... (1)

koan (80826) | about 4 months ago | (#47399389)

You won't even have to train the workers, they will have Google Glass like interface with which instructions sent from the AI tell the "human" what to do.

Humans will become the hands and feet of the AI.

Re:Soon... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47399443)

It wont work. You can be told how to weld but it it still takes actual practice.

Not all about jobs (1)

Justpin (2974855) | about 4 months ago | (#47399403)

Because HK's MTR is heavily overstaffed. For instance during peak times they will deploy an army of people to stand around holding signs, on Nathan Rd for instance a one way system it put into place for the entry and exit stairs for the stations. The above LED sign states that it is exit only or entry only. But two people are deployed to stand guard (which blocks the exit a tad) to hold signs saying exactly the same thing. Similarly down on the platform levels even though there are platform screen doors, you have armies of people standing there holding signs and little foam covered sticks to prevent people from getting on if it is too crowded. When I mean crowded I mean well over 100% capacity.

Re:Not all about jobs (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about 4 months ago | (#47399855)

armies of people standing there holding signs and little foam covered sticks to prevent people from getting on if it is too crowded.

Soon they'll have Daleks wield the sticks. N-o E-n-t-r-y, N-o E-n-t-r-y!

Many of the comparisons to other systems are bogus (1)

Herschel Cohen (568) | about 4 months ago | (#47399413)

NYC system has a 24 hour schedule, the last I heard.

I think even the London may operate more hours than does the Hong Kong system (the link I found on service hours for H.K. was imprecise, i.e. [approx.] early morning to late at night every day of the year], which at worse comes close to the London hours of service.

Both NYC and London systems are both near one hundred or more years older, which means they are more maintenance intensive. Moreover, the former (and presumably the latter) are comprised of an amalgam of irrationally constructed competing systems that have been only partially made a more rational whole by closures, by new construction and by attempts to connect lines.

I know this does not address the supposed A.I. aspect, but a system built much later has advantages in the tools they employ.

Re:Many of the comparisons to other systems are bo (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47400145)

I can confirm that London is indeed the same as NYC as regards slowly transforming a bunch of separate, competing services into a cohesive network. The different colored lines today approximately reflect the private company distinctions in the early network, and physical characteristics paint the rest of the story: some of the network runs in large tunnels originally built for steam trains, while other parts run inside small tunnels that were purpose-built for small-profile electric trains without exhaust.

Re:Many of the comparisons to other systems are bo (1)

ledow (319597) | about 4 months ago | (#47400911)

Not my problem, I just want to get to work on time.

The maintenance stuff? Maybe if you closed after the rush-hour evenings (instead of daytime at weekends when MILLIONS of people travel on the Tube), you might get closer to fixing it.

But, to be honest, I'm 35, and the same arguments were being spouted by politicians and unions even before I was born. Fact is, in that time, we've added whole new lines covering vast swathes of London that were never covered before and are now spending billions to connect Birmingham/Manchester by a slightly faster line. The money we've spent pissing about over the last 50 years could have rebuilt the Tube system twice over.

And why are we running trains from the 70's still? Because no fucker will replace them, it's always "cheaper" to just keep patching them and reupholstering them every few years. It's excuses all the way.

And still, my personal "uptime" with the London Underground / Overground is actually closer to 80% than anything else. And that's being generous.

For 20+ years all I've heard is "We're shutting this down / spending this money" in order to make things work better in the long-run and cope with increased demand that we expect. And yet the trains are more crowded than ever, the platforms are too small for the amount of people waiting on them in rush hour, and still we get atrocious amounts of delays and cancellations (and, worse, can't even be bothered to announce such delays/cancellations until about 30 minutes after the train didn't arrive anyway - very useful).

Sorry, the system is old - that means we should know it inside out. It's underground, that means it shouldn't change at all over the years. And yet it gets more expensive every year to have a less reliable system. Remember when "the Circle Line" was actually a circle that you could go all the way around in both directions? Remember when you could change at the large interchanges etc. without having to wait YEARS for them to change an escalator?

That's when you get past the strikes of whatever-group isn't happy earning more than I do for pushing a lever forward or having a computer print a ticket. Which, honestly, add up to WEEKS over the last few years? And at the moment, the Tour de France has brought some stations to a grinding halt already.

There's no point in a mass transit system that isn't transiting people en masse. And that's the one thing we don't actually have happening. If it's that bad, throw it out and start again, and you'll find that - actually - a new system would probably cost you a LOT more than 100-year-old pre-dug tunnels that everyone knows where they are, where they go, and how to get to every one of the entrances.

Interesting...but not 'new' (3, Informative)

dtjohnson (102237) | about 4 months ago | (#47399431)

The article was posted by someone who does not appear to have been around computers in industrial applications. Computers have been used for at least 4 decades for maintenance planning in large facilities as well as other areas such as transportation routing, product blending, production scheduling, etc. The maintenance activities for the London tube or the NYC subway are likely also being planned and scheduled using some sort of similar system even if the uptime result is not as good as Hong Kong.

Re:Interesting...but not 'new' (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47400355)

Doesn't make the story any less interesting for those of us not in the know to read. /. comments are always so negative and pessimistic, parent included.

Re:Interesting...but not 'new' (1)

steelfood (895457) | about 4 months ago | (#47400699)

The maintenance activities for the London tube or the NYC subway are likely also being planned and scheduled using some sort of similar system

I can't speak for London, but you'd be surprised about how backwaters the U.S. can be, especially in government organizations. When contracts are dragged out far beyond the initial bid (or even estimate, in a no-bid situation), it's more cost effective to do nothing and stick with paper and pencil. Check out the CityTime project if you want to see what happens to government contracts. It's an extreme case, certainly, but similar things happen on all scales, from the union workers to the contractor all the way up to management.

Manna (1, Insightful)

brunes69 (86786) | about 4 months ago | (#47399523)

Relevant. Must-read short story if you haven't.

http://marshallbrain.com/manna... [marshallbrain.com]

Now is the time fire the experts. (4, Insightful)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | about 4 months ago | (#47399899)

We have talked to the experts. Extracted their wisdom. Encoded it into machine readable rules. Proved that all the expertise has been extracted by the 99.9% up time.

So, naturally, the next step is to fire all those people who would no longer have something to contribute. As a purely added bonus all these people fresh out of things to contribute happen to be with years and years of experience, which means seniority and high pay.

The mid level bean counter would think, "well, I should be able to fire at least 20 of them. Savings of 2 million on pay, another million in benefits, almost 10 mill over three years. Even if I have to let the SOBs CEO and CFO grab a mill each, I should be able to get at least 250 K for myself. Time to fire up power point, 'Work Force Optimization due to the increased Efficiency achieved by the AI system. By Gottah Avemyb Onus, Sr Vice President, Hatchet Division'"

Re:Now is the time fire the experts. (1)

ledow (319597) | about 4 months ago | (#47400749)

And the problem is?

What you're suggesting is that we should choose the inefficient methods because it's more expensive but involves unnecessary humans. Quite where the logic of that lies, I can't tell.

If they'd hired some smarty who did the same for their company, and gave 99.9% up-time by their work, surely the same would still happen - except maybe they'd pay that guy a lot as well?

The case for "sabotaging" (look up the origin of the word) technology really died out hundreds of years ago - when we proved that actually it meant that everyone else in the world did better, got cheaper shoes, or - in this case - got to work on time. They've found a way to get the city to work on time, reliably, without the previous reliance on expensive humans to make the wrong (and maybe even politically-motivated in the case of worker's unions) decisions. The city probably makes more money as a result than the transport system COSTS, even if it's not in direct $ figures on some spreadsheet somewhere.

The only consistent, ongoing factor in automation is that it does more, faster, more reliably, cheaper at the expense of staff who did less, slower and less reliably but cost more. Sure, people need jobs - but nobody but the government is obligated to create them.

And, to be honest, if the guy who commissioned and oversaw the system gets a raise as part of that? Good on him. He did a fucking good job by the looks of it.

Anyone want to have these people come do the same to the London Underground so we can sack all the striking drivers that earn more than I do, the useless ticket-office issuers who never know what to do even when the machine TELLS them, and actually get to work on time? I do!

Best Video Game Level, Ever (1)

Jahoda (2715225) | about 4 months ago | (#47399941)

I'm thinking somewhere between "Altered Beast" and "Contra" - after playing through the subway tunnels, suddenly you arrive at the boss, a towering computer which hurls engineers at you.

HAL9000 is not so distant (1)

jcdr (178250) | about 4 months ago | (#47400167)

"I've just picked up a fault in the AE35 unit. It's going to go 100% failure in 72 hours."
vs
"From its omniscient view it can see chances to combine work and share resources that no human could."

The fiction in the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey" is maybe to believe that the human brain could ever compete with a computer.

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