The Hong Kong subway system uses cognitive technologies for automation to improve quality and efficiency. The performance of the system overall is impressive. It carries over 5 million passengers daily and boasts a 99.9 percent on-time record. In a typical week 10,000 workers carry out some 2,600 engineering activities across the system to keep it running smoothly. The operator of the Hong Kong subway system implemented cognitive technologies to automate and optimize the planning of these engineering works.
The planning system encodes rules of thumb learned by experts over years of experience plus constraints such as schedules and regulations about maximum noise levels allowed at night. It employs a “genetic algorithm” that pits many solutions to the same problem against each other to find the best one, producing an optimal engineering schedule automatically and saving two days of planning work per week. Though it automates the work of experts, it doesn’t replace them. As Andy Chun, CIO for the City University of Hong Kong and the designer of the system said, the human planners “are rare experts in the field. Their time is never enough.” The system “helps relieve them of the scheduling task so that they can focus on tougher issues that require human interactions and negotiations.”