2020s: A decade driven by AI

Some months ago, we entered into 2020 with a strong global economy and with a positive outlook. A few weeks into the new decade, the world was presented with a challenge that unified us in ways that we could never have imagined.  

Countries, governments and its citizens banded together, like never before, to combat a common enemy and overcome the coronavirus pandemic. Businesses resiliency, flexibility, adaptability and work cultures have been put to the test. And the importance of technology has never been more apparent as COVID-19 has forced us to rethink the way we work, learn, and keep ourselves healthy and safe.

Technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and intelligent automation (IA) can be implemented to support government functions, healthcare organisations and businesses efficiently. According to IDC, AI is one bright spot in an otherwise gloomy economic forecast with the number of AI jobs increasing as much as 16 percent in 2020. That’s up from 13 percent IDC predicted before the pandemic. Further, as IT spending is expected to decrease this year, companies are diverting their investments to cloud and AI services that cut costs, enable efficiency, and boost the bottom line.

These are some ways I envision AI and intelligent automation are impacting our lives now, and in the years to come:

1. Evolution of work and skills

People are definitely concerned about AI and automation taking over their jobs. I firmly believe that our roles will be looked at differently over the course of the next decade. Those who are working in administration, data entry or business processing jobs can look to benefit from AI with the technology automating tedious tasks, and, therefore, creating opportunities for workers to be upskilled and reskilled within their organisations to take on bigger roles.

It’s also become increasingly clear during this pandemic that human labour is more valuable than ever. Robots aren’t taking jobs. They’re making us more productive. One of the best ways to future proof yourself professionally is to acquire technology skills. Those who are AI-ready, will be more attractive as businesses look to insulate themselves and more proactively prepare for future pandemics.

2. Acceleration of new findings in drug research

AI is accelerating the delivery of new findings in drug research. That will enable the pharmaceutical industry to provide doctors and patients with better treatments, faster. Intelligent automation based on fractal science can analyse unstructured data of all forms, like paperwork, books, research papers and images and then predict what formulations can be developed to tackle certain issues, based on the data it analyses.

Using multi-tenancy bots – a system that allows multiple BOTs to reside on singular desktop performing multiple tasks, as opposed to one – can also dramatically increase a researcher’s productivity by analysing huge sets of data for them. This reduces the time and resources spent on research, and increases the rate of the discovery of new drugs.

Researchers have utilised AI in the middle of the current pandemic to learn more about the nature of the virus and identify drugs that can be repurposed to disrupt the way it works. We can expect to see AI being integrated into more pharmaceutical research projects in the next decade, and thanks to this technology we will be able to respond quicker to any new virus outbreaks.

3. Reduced appointment wait times, enhanced medical imaging and shortened diagnosis period

Utilising AI and intelligent automation to process patient data could reduce appointment wait times significantly. Hospitals and clinics can look at better resource management by reducing the amount of administrative work and focus on areas that matters most. This is especially important with social distancing guidelines in place and as hospitals and health care centres are increasingly using AI to regulate the flow of visitors.

AI allows for more accurate diagnoses by getting practitioners clean data quickly. Traditionally, a person would have to crunch terabytes of data to diagnose a patient. Now businesses can leverage AI for number crunching, and human beings can validate the results.

For example, Singapore-based AI startup, 6Estates, developed an AI-powered assistive CT-scan diagnosis platform during the coronavirus outbreak that is capable of reading and processing scans comprising of 200 images each in just 10 seconds – 30 times faster than the rate it takes for an experienced radiologist to accomplish.

We will observe more healthcare organisations embracing the power of AI, translating to a significant decrease in the mortality rates across the globe in the upcoming years.

4. Growth of AI-powered cyber security and cyber threats

With the increased use of remote working tools that lack basic security and COVID-19 related malicious emails, we are seeing a rise in cybersecurity attacks due to the vulnerabilities that are being exposed by bad actors during the pandemic. However, by being deployed to detect an intrusion and identify fraudulent emails, AI can be used to help lower the risks and even prevent attacks from happening.

This is a huge undertaking as major cybersecurity firms anticipate a big ramp up in AI-based cyberattacks in the next few years. With the projected spending on security products and services in Asia-Pacific to reach US$34 billion by 2023, we will begin to witness a rise in the adoption of AI-powered cyber security solutions to combat AI-driven cyberattacks (ironically) through the decade.

5. Enhancements in customer satisfaction

The use of chatbots have exploded over the past few years. Due to the growing demand from consumers for convenience across all sectors, companies have begun to deploy chatbots to respond to customer enquiries around-the-clock. Apart from meeting the demand, customers have also adapted well to the technology. Forty percent of consumers do not care whether they are being serviced by a chatbot or an actual person, as long as they are getting the help they need.

Most recently, we’ve seen chatbots play an important role in the fight against COVID-19. Chatbots are helping people stay connected, get the answers they need quickly, and are helping to disseminate credible information. For example, the World Health Organisation (WHO) built a WhatsApp bot to answers FAQs, bust common myths about the virus and better prepare people across the world with accurate and up to date information.

Paired up with advanced AI solutions, chatbots will become increasingly intelligent in the next decade, enhancing customer satisfaction and improving cost efficiency to support companies’ revenue goals.

6. Ethics in AI

Debates around ethics in AI will continue to rage on into the next decade. While AI clearly presents huge societal and economic benefits, it can also pose a danger if used with malintent. From undermining democracy by skewing election results to algorithmic bias to disrupting the job market, governments and companies need to come together to make sure that automation and AI does not endanger society. Frameworks around the specific applications of AI, sector by sector, will need to be developed and enforced to ensure the technology is used as intended, and for the benefit of all.