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AI and Robots in Data Centers: The Pros and Cons

By: Kayla Matthews on October 1, 2018

Many people know the latest data centers feature advanced technology that promotes eco-friendly operations, enhanced reliability and more. So, it's probably not surprising that the next trend on the horizon is to use robots and artificial intelligence (AI) in data centers.

Here are three pros and three cons of that development.

Pro #1: AI Technology Can Make Tweaks Humans Wouldn't

Concerning AI, in particular, it can become so smoothly automated that it picks up on things that humans would miss. One example is the smart, automated system Google uses, which the company says saves about 30 percent on energy costs per year and should get even better.

The system evaluates 21 variables, crunches the data they provide and adjusts the conditions in the data center accordingly. But, it doesn't always match what humans would do in the same situation. During a tornado watch, the humans analyzing the system though it behaved counterintuitively.

When they looked closer, though, they saw the technology had made the adjustments necessary at the time to save energy despite the unusual weather conditions. One of the reasons why AI excels in many applications is that it analyzes data so fast it makes decisions swifter than humans can.

Con #1: Robots May Make It Harder for People to Enter the Job Market

One of the common lines of thought about robots is that they could handle the monotonous tasks humans do, leaving people to tackle things that are more mentally stimulating. But, research also suggests entry-level workers could be most vulnerable to the increasing prominence of robots in the workforce.

Low-skilled jobs could be at risk, but, more specifically, so might the people who aim to get their first jobs in local data centers after receiving training. And, if robots have artificial intelligence components inside them, they may not need to learn things as often as humans do, as those people nervously get their bearings at new jobs.

Researchers already know technology can do some things better than humans. That'll become even truer as it gets more advanced.

Pro #2: Technology Should Help Data Centers Scale Up

Artificial intelligence and deep learning are among the technologies impacting data centers now and for the foreseeable future. Even in these early stages, people are aware of the scalability robotics and AI offer, and they are confident those technologies can help them meet needs as data centers become more extensive.

A startup called LilBit specifically makes AI agents for data centers. They use sensors, sound and computer vision to learn the things technicians teach them, then smoothly transition into data center roles, such as one an overnight worker might have filled previously. Technology won't replace workers, but when it can learn quickly and perform reliably, it's easier for data centers to expand.

Con #2: Unforeseen Circumstances Might Pose Challenges

When developing any new technology and implementing it in a segment of the workforce, it's impossible for people to know all of the possible outcomes. So, although it seems mostly positive that robots and AI are increasingly seen in data centers, it's likely there will be challenges that companies can't anticipate now that they'll have to conquer when they arise.

There is what's known as the "black box problem" with AI, and particularly deep learning algorithms. In short, researchers don't always know what caused AI to make the decisions it does.

Then, widespread use of robotics in data centers could show that certain parts wear out faster than expected. When that happens, it could take the machines out of commission for prohibitively long lengths of time depending on the availability of repair personnel.

Pro #3: AI and Robotics Could Spot Security Issues

Analysts also believe that together, AI and robotics applications could facilitate better management of security problems in data centers. For example, AI might pick up on a suspicious pattern, then robotics equipment kicks in to help minimize the damage to servers and other equipment. Such a system wouldn't negate the need for human staff members, but it could help contain problems.

Con #3: Most People Are Suspicious of Technology

A survey from the Pew Research Center found 70 percent of respondents were apprehensive about a future where machines take over jobs. That fear of the unknown could make it difficult for tech professionals to convince data center executives to start incorporating robots and AI into data centers.

If those executives are particularly set in their beliefs, even the most logical arguments may prove fruitless.

It's Necessary to See Both Sides

Although the additions of AI and robots in data centers seem positive in many aspects, there are downsides to consider. That's why tech analysts must continually try to broaden their views to encompass both the advantages and the possible pitfalls.

Although the additions of AI and robots in data centers seem positive in many aspects, there are downsides to consider. That's why tech analysts must continually try to broaden their views to encompass both the advantages and the possible pitfalls.

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