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Supply Chain Industry Updates

This Holiday Season, Give the Gift of AI

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A headline on the FedScoop website today quietly noted that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is “screaming for AI.”

“CBP needs to analyze data earlier along the supply chain because currently it’s getting involved too late after products have been manufactured and already begun international transit,” the article explained. It added that “the volume of supply chain data CBP is dealing with has skyrocketed since the agency started piloting blockchain to secure various industries like steel and oil, and only AI and machine learning can make sense of it all.”

Two things are noteworthy here. One: Many people think of customs only when they’re wondering whether to declare the Cuban cigars they’re bringing home from vacation. But, yes, CBP also monitors things like industrial imports, not just souvenirs. Two: If you “scream” loud enough, someone is bound to hear you.

Those shouts for help are being heard in places like academia, where AI and blockchain are growing areas of study and research. Also on Tuesday, Cornell University announced that its engineering school was the recipient of a $250,000 grant to perform research into supply chain uses of blockchain and machine learning tools. The work (unrelated to the CBP) is funded by multinational France-based insurer Axa.

“How do you design a system in which people are reporting the location of a shipment, in a context where there are severe restrictions on where the shipments can go because of a pandemic?”

“This funding will allow us to develop mathematical technology methodology to identify vulnerabilities in global supply chains and in their insurance/reinsurance networks,” said Andreea Minca, associate professor of operations research and information engineering, “so those systems become more robust.”

One challenge Cornell will look at concerns designing blockchain systems that use geographic information to verify maritime data. “How do you design a system in which people are reporting the location of a shipment, in a context where there are severe restrictions on where the shipments can go because of a pandemic?” Minca said. “You could have closed ports, you could have outbreaks in some areas, and those become no-go zones — all of that needs to be verifiable by multiple parties.”

The Axa grant is for three years — plenty of time (we hope) for the world to have moved past COVID-19 and to have learned how to use AI and other tools get ready for the next big disruption.

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