SIERRA VISTA — Scaling humans. It sounds like a bad thing, but what it means is to find ways for humans to spend more time doing things which require creativity and ingenuity by automating the many repetitive, manual tasks workers currently perform.

And Cochise County is right in the middle of a significant technology that is already scaling humans.

“Artificial Intelligence, or AI, is seen in many aspects of our lives now, and although we don’t see it, it’s around us and growing daily,” Dr. John DeLalla said. “I hope to offer a follow-up talk next spring to quantify the advances over the year.”

DeLalla is director of the University of Arizona South Continuing Education program in Sierra Vista. On April 4, the college hosted a free community seminar about AI featuring speakers from NCI, an industry leader in AI initiatives and strategies.

“Artificial Intelligence is a generation-changing technology with the potential to improve productivity in ways we have not seen for decades,” Brad Mascho of NCI said.

Mascho was joined by Greg Merritt, NCI’s VP of Enterprise Solutions.

The company has nearly 250 employees and contractors working in Cochise County, most at Fort Huachuca. The U.S. Army NETCOM on the post is one of NCI’s customers.

Mascho and Merritt believe AI must be a national priority, pointing to comments made last year by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia, but for all humankind,” Putin said. “It comes with colossal opportunities, but also threats that are difficult to predict. Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.”

While much of the national focus on AI relates to potential uses for military and defense industries, the technology is already at use in the medical field, where it’s used to identify and correct errors in patient files.

Natalie Goodhue of Sierra Vista has worked nearly eight years as a medical billing specialist for two large hospital chains in California. She says when she first started, about 50 percent of the transactions she reviewed were rejected due to incomplete or incorrect information.

It often took a month or longer for someone at the hospital to correct the entry and re-send it through.

“But then the hospitals brought in artificial intelligence software programs that are able to (identify) missing or incompatible data and correct it before I ever see it at transactional review,” Goodhue explained. “Now, the processing that requires human review or decision-making gets done weeks quicker.”

AI also helps insurance companies with subrogation of claims, work which currently requires employees of one insurance company to compile, input, and review claims to determine if another insurance provider should pay some of the claim.

According to a 2017 Accenture survey, 75 percent of 550 insurance executives responded that AI will significantly or completely alter the industry by 2020.

“AI allows us to do in minutes what would take multiple hours” for human workers to perform, Mascho said. “And do it with almost no errors.”