In a year defined by COVID-19, AI has proven its worth
2020 was a different and difficult year. It was one in which a global pandemic forced the world to adopt a new way of interacting, both professionally and socially. Government measures to contain COVID-19 have resulted in technology playing a bigger part in everyday life than ever before, as the world shifted to almost entirely virtual interactions. This has led to many impressive developments within tech, most notably in Artificial Intelligence (AI).
From expected developments, such as the continued advancement and deployment of chatbots, to unexpected, such as using AI to predict how viruses spread around the world, AI has had a momentous year. Here are 10 of the most important developments to happen to AI in 2020.
1. AI-backed technology startup sounded the first alarms on COVID-19.
When COVID-19 first presented as an unusually potent pneumonia in Wuhan, China, it was AI tech startup BlueDot that was the first to identify the emerging risk. The algorithm then accurately predicted 8 of the first 10 cities that the coronavirus spread to next. AI played a large role in forecasting, detecting and developing treatments for COVID-19 in the subsequent months.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, AI is being used by companies, governments and health organizations to use data to forecast second and third waves of infection, estimate the strain on the healthcare system and inform policies on border control.
2. AI took on a prominent role in healthcare.
Beyond COVID-19, the use of AI in the healthcare industry in 2020 has greatly increased. From clinical diagnosis using medical imaging and data analysis to creating treatment plans to pharmaceutical research and development, AI has become a valuable tool within healthcare to improve outcomes and help manage large volumes of patient data securely.
As the world moved most operations online, AI facilitated a virtual world of healthcare. Telemedicine powered by AI now allows for accurate virtual diagnoses. It is being used to advance virtual research: storing high volumes of data, helping with online surveys and allowing effective collaboration across the globe.
In more specific cases, developments aided by AI helped researchers discover a way to diagnose Parkinson’s disease at a much earlier stage than ever before and is being used to improve the odds for people trying to conceive through IVF. Each of these cases uses AI technology such as machine learning algorithms to analyse a large volume of data in new and more detailed ways.
3. Chatbots became vital customer service tools.
Customers increasingly expect businesses to have answers immediately and 24/7 availability. Businesses responded to that need quickly with large-scale adoption of chatbots powered by AI to answer a variety of customer service inquiries. The chatbot industry saw high growth in investments during 2020, well on its way to become a $9.4 billion industry by 2024.
Research by Oracle showed that 78% of brands have either already implemented or planned to implement AI by the end of 2020 to serve customers, and 80% of sales and marketing leaders said they would use chatbots to improve user experience by 2020. The reputation of chatbots has improved as well, helped along by advances in algorithms that make them more human-like and give them the ability to respond in more effective ways.
4. AI gained the ability to question itself.
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found a way for deep learning neural networks to quickly calculate the confidence level in their own output. This is essential as AI is being used to make decisions that affect human life in potentially consequential ways. From self-driving cars to facial recognition technology, it’s important for researchers and developers to know not only the output from AI analysis, but how accurate that analysis may be.
5. AI learned to write like a human.
GPT-3, a natural-language system developed by AI research laboratory OpenAI made headlines earlier in the year for its ability to write in a way that very accurately mimics human speech. Subsequent tests and experiments after the system was released proved just how well it can write, creating texts that sound like they were written by specific humans, along with poetry, translations, and its own code for use in app development.
GPT-3 is still perfecting its capabilities, and experts caution that while the output is convincingly human, the thought process behind it is decidedly still machine and reliant on algorithms. It is limited in its responses by its programming and unable to think critically on its own. However, it opens the door to new ways in which AI can be applied.
6. Deepfakes gained notoriety, particularly on social media.
Deepfakes use deep learning technology, specifically algorithms that learn the details of a person’s face, to create synthetic or fake videos. And they became a big part of the AI conversation in 2020, especially with the US presidential election in November.
Deepfake technology can be used for both good and malicious intents. Companies are using the technology behind deepfakes for training or promotional videos, especially with COVID-19 limiting the ability to safely film in person. On the other hand, deepfakes on social media contributed to the spread of false and misleading information, and it shone a spotlight on the debate regarding the responsibility of social media platforms to regulate content spread on their sites, along with other questions on ethics.
7. AI continued to create more jobs than it has replaced.
As AI, automation, and robotics continue to progress, many people have raised concerns about the technologies replacing humans in jobs. Automation is a major advancement that creates room for new levels of productivity, but what happens to the people that do those jobs now?
The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2020 showed that AI is on track to making a positive impact on the job market by creating more jobs than it automates. According to the report, 85 million jobs will be displaced across 26 countries and 15 industries by 2025. However, 97 new million jobs that are adapted to the new division of labour between humans and machines could be created by 2025.
While it will require an investment in training and reskilling, AI is set to have a positive impact on the job market. The bottom line is that robots will take over a good number of the (more monotonous) jobs that exist in the economy right now, but they will also create new opportunities across the board.
8. Robots powered by AI made leaps in their abilities.
In 2020, ongoing AI research and development from around the world gave robotics new abilities. For example, at the University of California, Berkeley, researchers used AI to develop a robot for use in warehouses that can hold and move objects in a more human-like way. At the University of Tokyo, researchers used deep learning to give robots the ability to be more spontaneous in their movements, rather than completely reliant on programmed tasks. This is key for developing robots that are more autonomous in their capabilities. At the University of Southern California, researchers developed a system for robots to pick up abilities at a much faster pace, requiring fewer repetitions of a task to learn how to do it.
9. AI caught the eye of the finance sector.
In early November 2020, Amazon and Barclays formed a partnership in Germany that would integrate shopping and payments. While this partnership is regionalized, it is a symbol of advancements in the global race to use AI technology to provide a better customer experience.
From customizing the products offered to clients to predicting credit risk, the use of AI in finance has big potential. Fraud detection within finance and banking is another major application of AI that has increased in 2020. Using AI algorithms, banks are able to detect fraud by analyzing patterns to find suspicious behaviors using data from millions or even billions of accounts.
10. AI startups continued to attract strong investment.
In Q1, AI startups raised $6.9 billion in funding, and in Q2, $7.2 billion. Investment in AI startups slowed down significantly during the second half of the year, due to a variety of factors including COVID-19 and a general recession around the world. The numbers at the beginning of the year were promising however, showing that as AI develops, investors and other companies are becoming increasingly confident in investing in its future.
The Future is Bright
2020 has been a difficult year. It has, however, shown the potential of artificial intelligence to benefit humanity in numerous ways, from improving healthcare to identifying pandemics and creating more stimulating and satisfying jobs for humans. We are excited to see how this technology will continue to grow and develop in the years to come.