Artificial intelligence and logistics: optimism, willpower and know-how

"Change forever? Logistics and Artificial Intelligence" – this was the motto under which the Kühne Foundation and Kühne Logistics University gathered international experts for the Kühne Foundation Logistics Day last Tuesday. Due to the corona crisis, for the first time the event was held in a purely online format. Over 300 guests connected digitally and followed various keynote speeches and the panel discussion.

Artificial intelligence and digitalization have been shaping the logistics industry for decades. Will these new technologies lead to a state of constant change? Or will logistics prove to be unsuitable for the further integration of AI tools due to its complexity? After the welcome address by co-host Thomas Strothotte, President of KLU, Karl Gernandt, Chairman of the Board of Directors (Präsident des Verwaltungsrates) of Kühne Holding AG, shared insights into the importance of AI technologies for the logistics industry. "Logistics is predestined to use intelligent tools in order to optimize the large number of systems in use and make processes more efficient. The current climate change movement and the corona pandemic are paving the way for further changes," said Gernandt.

AI as a driving force for innovation

"We can now understand data with the help of machines, use it automatically and thereby also monetize it," said Prof. Wolfgang Wahlster, Founding Director and Chief Executive Advisor to the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI). Especially in logistics, AI has hardly been hype; instead, it has been a second major wave of innovation in digitalization, Wahlster added. Real-time planning, digital twins and autonomous logistics fleets are just some of the AI technologies from which Logistics 4.0 benefits. "It's not about saving on personnel, but about providing meaningful support in critical situations. For example, autonomous systems can greatly increase traffic density. At the same time, AI must be accepted by society and serve people," Wahlster claimed.

Need for uniform data standards

One frequently discussed hurdle for the introduction of AI: the lack of binding data standards worldwide. AI can help sort through the chaos created by heterogeneous data. But in order to bring together all the different partners in logistics, such as transport companies, customers and suppliers, a uniform data language is needed. This would also make investments attractive for small and medium-sized companies, as Dr. Detlef Trefzger, CEO of Kuehne + Nagel International AG, pointed out in his keynote speech.

Getting employees on board

In the concluding panel discussion, Dr. Wolfgang Hildesheim (IBM DACH), Stefan Hentschel (Google Germany), Daniel Warner (Uber Freight), Wolfgang Wahlster and Detlef Trefzger discussed further questions from the audience, moderated by Prof. Hanno Friedrich and Prof. André Ludwig from KLU. Their unanimous conclusion: when it comes to the successful introduction of AI, both the corporate culture and employee engagement are crucial. Digital transformation is comprehensive and cannot be thought of as an isolated solution - if we bear this in mind, then it can also crack the "tough nut" of logistics, with its particularly high degree of complexity and connectivity. "One step at a time," said Wolfgang Wahlster, citing as an example autonomous driving, which is first tested on motorways before being used in more complex traffic situations.

Optimism, willpower and know-how

Finally, Karl Gernandt aptly summarized the most important aspects in just three keywords: "Optimism, willpower and know-how. Logistics knows what it can do. This means that the challenge of AI can be approached with optimism, but can only be overcome with willpower. "In two years' time, at the next Logistics Day, we will hopefully be able to look back on today's issues with a smile."

More information: