Columnist Jim Hilton examines the affects of artificial intelligence on B.C. industries. (Pixaby image)

Columnist Jim Hilton examines the affects of artificial intelligence on B.C. industries. (Pixaby image)

FOREST INK: Impacts of artificial intelligence on B.C. industries

Some are lucky with their take-out businesses, with many online- or home-based businesses doing fine

The big question on many peoples’ mind is how long will it take to get business back on track after COVID.

Some people are lucky with their take-out businesses, online and home-based businesses maybe doing fine.

The forest industry for now is not only doing well, but the lumber side has enjoyed a temporary record increase due to robust demand in the new home and renovation market. Some of this increase is caused by lack of timber availability in both U.S. and Canada caused by the massive forest fires in the past few years in parts of western U.S. and Canada.

Unfortunately for many workers their jobs have been and will continue to be replaced by the ongoing automation trend. The traditional lumber grading jobs have disappeared with the exception of some small scale businesses that can’t justify the high costs of some automation systems.

The good news is there are more jobs created in fields associated with the development, construction, installation, maintenance and upgrading of these new systems. During my research of lumber-grading systems, I counted at least 13 companies producing log breakdown and lumber-grading optimization products. Of these five use artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance their solutions. Well established international companies like Finscan, Lucidyne, Bid Group, Weinig and USNR continue to move forward providing opportunities for forest companies to maximize value from a shrinking resource.

A new innovation developed in Chile (Woodtech Measurements – Logmeter system) can now in less than two minutes scan the logs on a logging truck and determine in real time the length, sweep, top and butt diameters of each piece in the load.

Logmeter includes an auditing system, which allows managers to analyze log data and images, identify trends, rank log suppliers, avoid fraud, among others. The impact of scanning, measuring and auditing every single log load is realized in operational and log cost savings and the improvement of log size and quality increasing lumber manufacturing efficiencies. Some of our B train log loads with multiple bundles of small logs could be a challenge for this system.

This could be an opportunity for BC to improve our government log scaling practice that still requires Scalers with tape measures to determine the length and diameter of sample loads in order to calculate the volume of logs on a truck.

Artificial intelligence and super computers are also being developed for forest planning. According to an article in BC Business ,May 2019, a virtual system allows forest planners to fly over hills and gullies, lay out roads and cut blocks, all without putting helicopters in the air or people in the woods.

“The visualization tool uses terabytes of data about a planned logging site from satellite and aerial imagery, geographic information and infrared surveys to create a 1:1 digital replica of the area—down to the placement and height of an individual Western red cedar. With virtual reality glasses and a handset, planners can lasso a stand of trees and instantly calculate the value of its lumber.” One company estimates this new tool will save at least $3 per cubic metre of wood by cutting helicopter time, field days and training, and allowing for better planning. All of that also means safer working conditions.

We will no doubt also see more use of artificial intelligence in areas like transportation, manufacturing and health related industries. Not all inventions are being supported, like the tracking of covid carriers, face recognition from surveillance cameras and potential invasion of privacy with health monitoring systems. I have been trying to follow the discussions on the pros and cons through some books and YouTube discussions by author Yuval Noah Harari, a historian at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The books and panel discussions provide lots of information and ideas on where these new technologies may take us whether we like it or not. I would also like to thank Jim Thomson for his comments on this article.

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Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has lived and worked in the Cariboo Chilcotin for the past 40 years. Now retired, Hilton still volunteers his skills with local community forests organizations.

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