2021 Tech Trends: Artificial Intelligence

In this second edition of our 2021 Tech Trends series, we’re looking at Artificial Intelligence. AI is an umbrella term for any technology that is inspired by a biological system. In simpler terms AI is a computer that mimics human abilities such as seeing, hearing, reasoning, and learning, though this definition will likely evolve with the advancement of AI technology.

This weekend my husband and I had an at-home date night where we watched the Schwarzenegger classic Total Recall, which is hilarious and campy especially since the last time either of us had seen it was about two decades ago! What stuck out the most was the combination of AI and the self-driving taxi. It really didn’t seem as outlandish in 2020 as it would have in 1990, which just goes to show how quickly AI has caught up with us as a recognizable and common tool in our daily lives.

AI is everywhere and while we still might be decades away from a Jetson’s-style full-service housekeeper (aka Rosie), we already have automated robots that clean our floors, tell us when the fridge is running low on milk, and give directions while driving. We’ve got Siri, Cortana, and Alexa to give us quick answers, set reminders, and schedule our appointments. But AI isn’t just in the business of convenience, it has become a multi-billion dollar industry. It is estimated that the AI market will be worth $60 billion globally in 2025, with the U.S. taking up $16.2 billion of that!

Let’s dive into five key areas where we see AI trending in 2021 and beyond.

 

Business Development

This one is obvious. Business development and advanced technology have always gone hand in hand, and the integration of AI is creating new ways of both looking at and doing business. 

For internal business development, digital IQ plays a valuable role in helping organizations understand their business processes, content, and data from multiple perspectives.This allows them to optimize their automation initiatives with the goal of improving the customer experience while reducing costs and staying competitive.

In the workforce the number of digital assistants will increase, with some estimates saying it will increase by more than 50% in 2022. Minimal or repetitive tasks are already managed through task automation, for example auto-generated business reports, routine software updates, and other processes that can be initiated with the simple push of a button. But with hyper-automation through AI, the number of digital assistants will increase with the application of advanced technologies. Hyper-automation integrates AI-enabled tools with traditional automation in ways that are more significant and effective. This integration of AI-enabled tools will redefine how business processes are executed in real time. 

For brick-and-mortar stores, one interesting way that AI has been implemented is the check-free model. Amazon was one of the first businesses to use this, creating a more efficient and enjoyable customer experience in addition to being a tool to mitigate theft and inventory loss. An additional benefit to this was that store staff could focus their time on restocking and customer service, rather than manning long lines of customers waiting to check out.

There are multiple ways that AI can be implemented for both internal and external business uses, including creating more efficient production pipelines, quantum computing, and even better predictive text. We look forward to seeing what else develops through AI for business processes and customer service.

 

Cybersecurity

With the development of new technologies comes a higher likelihood of cybersecurity vulnerabilities and attacks. AI can be deployed as an intelligent measure against these attacks. Future AI security will focus on protecting AI powered systems, leveraging AI to increase security by understanding patterns and uncovering attacks, and anticipating the ways that AI itself could be deployed to hack secure systems. AI can be trained to identify intrusions and malware, discover code vulnerabilities, and detect fraudulent activity, all vital parts of a robust cybersecurity plan.

The devastating effects of a cybersecurity attack is currently on display as a major hospital chain recovers from with the consequences of malicious ransomware. Hackers are using the pandemic as a way to hobble hospital security and demand payment to restore hospital systems and patient records. This is already having devastating effects, but also serves as an example of the necessity of top-notch cybersecurity and the potential that AI has to identify and eliminate these types of threats before they happen. 

A 2019 Forbes article reported that 69% of businesses believe that AI is a necessary tool to respond to cyberattacks. The article goes on to note that this isn’t just a good safety practice: 64% of report respondents felt that using AI lowered both the overall cost and the time required to detect and respond to cyberattacks. AI really is the future of cybersecurity, for both practical and financial reasons. 

Virtual Reality and Imaging

Some of the most obvious ways that AI will improve is in the area of virtual reality and imagery in gaming and social media. A recent article by Interesting Engineering talks about how AI will continue improving computer-generated graphics particularly for photorealistic effects films and gaming.

However, virtual and augmented reality has applications beyond gaming. With more and more businesses interacting virtually, augmented reality has the potential to be integrated even further into business applications. 

In the medical field, it can support diagnostic imaging, image-guided procedures, and telemedicine. In communications and marketing, it can create an enhanced, immersive customer experience. In academia, it can help students explore places and eras related to their education or research. 

AI combined with VR is becoming a powerful tool for immersive experiences that can have applications across multiple industries.

 

Transportation

Another trend in AI centers around the transportation industry. It’s not just self-driving cars like in Total Recall; AI has been deployed to create Smart Tracks for mass transit, autonomous buses, and electric shuttles. It has applications to improve traffic management, predicting and detecting traffic accidents, and turning traffic sensors into “intelligent” agents using cameras. Railway systems for cargo transportation can benefit from “intelligent” trains to improve efficiency and increase economic benefit. GE is already using smart freight locomotives that use sensors that allow AI to make decisions and adjustments in real time. AI also has the potential to be implemented in Digital License Plates that could report on accidents or use GPS for location detection.

As applications for AI in the transportation industry increase, it will have widespread effect on things like city design, planning, and smart city infrastructure, in addition to modeling for public and cargo mass transport.

AI continues to be used in the aviation industry as part of security measures, such as smart security scanners at passenger and cargo checkpoints. Machine learning techniques use AI to hone in on threats such as firearms and explosives, while ignoring non-threatening items such as keys and belt buckles that often trigger traditional security systems. 

We all know what a hassle airport security is, even though we understand the necessity of it. I once had a pair of thin metal earrings set off an airport scanner and it took several passes through the machine before either I or the TSA agent figured out what was triggering the security scanner. It was time-consuming, stressful, and made my vacation start off on an uncomfortable note.

AI applications that can identify between threatening and non-threatening items don’t just increase safety, they make routine security checks more efficient and less intrusive for passengers.

 

Healthcare

We’ve already talked about the use of VR and imaging with AI to advance healthcare, including the processing of noninvasive internal images which help to diagnose and treat diseases.

But there are many other applications for AI in medicine. AI has been implemented as a Virtual Health Assistant to help patients self-monitor after surgery or long-term care, provide reminders for taking or reordering medication, and even the latest Apple watch has a blood oxygen monitor! This is just a small window into the future of how AI can provide medical support from our personal devices.

AI can also be used to access and extract medical information relevant to upcoming trials and tests, helping doctors to quickly identify patients that could benefit from experimental therapies and treatments through clinical trials.

An article that was released as part of the World Economic Forum stated that as soon as 2030, AI will be able to monitor multiple sources of data to diagnose and treat healthcare issues, use predictive modeling for early intervention and preventative care, and increase efficiency within hospital systems

With all this on the horizon, maybe the world of the Jetsons and Total Recall really is just around the corner! (Hopefully without the ensuing ethical issues . . . but that’s a topic for another blog.)

 

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“AI isn’t just in the business of convenience, it has become a multi-billion dollar industry.”

2021 Tech Trends: AI

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