In the wake of the pandemic, it has become clear that technology such as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning will be even more relevant to industries such as Healthcare, Transport, Finance and Agriculture. Every bit of technological innovation and ingenuity will help to bring us one step closer to overcoming the pandemic. In areas of research and healthcare, organisations have been quick to apply AI and machine learning know-how to help predict, diagnose and treat disease. As the world grapples with the pandemic, various organisations, whether small or large, public or private will find new ways to optimise their workflows and operations to meet the needs of their customers and employees. A key question is then, “what can we do with artificial intelligence (AI) in the fight against COVID-19?” While there is a lot of research and focus on COVID-19 tracing and vaccine development, here are four other areas which should be focused on.
With almost a million of Australians out of work due to coronavirus since March, many businesses struggling to stay open due to lockdowns or struggling to make enough money to keep staff have turned to AI to fill in the gap. In the next 15 years, data modelling commissioned by the Australian Computer Society estimates that more than 7 million Australians are at risk of having their jobs automated out of existence or augmented by robots and AI. Even after the pandemic is over, many industries will see significant changes and many jobs will not immediately come back, or even exist. The shift to AI applications such as chatbots and content monitoring systems will result in more profitability for companies, however, there will be a wave of job losses for workers across the board.
While there may be increasing positions in areas of technology including AI development and IT roles, it is crucial that organisations address the skill gaps and prepare for a post COVID-19 operating model. A potential short-term solution to rising unemployment can involve leveraging AI to build and scan through talent pools as well as teach people the skills they need through online learning. This can allow those who are unemployed to be upskilled and utilised across diverse roles as new jobs can be created. Recently, the World Economic Forum has suggested using online and mobile training programs to retrain unemployed people as community health workers to help with the outbreak in local communities. Australians have already turned to online courses from overseas providers such as Edx, Udemy, and Coursera. With access to digital learning assisted by artificial intelligence and machine learning such as with AI tutors and chatbots, it could pave the way to creating better paying jobs that would have immediate demand.
2) Supply Chain Management
There is no doubt that the pandemic has made it more difficult to capture spikes and troughs in the average person’s daily needs. Large swings in demand will create more crises than opportunities for traditional supply chains to navigate through. The key is finding innovative ways to deliver what is needed to service customers’ requirements with minimal interruptions. Companies such as IBM Watson and Cycorp are currently innovating in this space using AI and Big Data to leverage aggregate metrics to create stronger predictive models that can absorb large amounts of data to pick up trends early and return to a normal demand-driven landscape. AI tools and deep analytics solutions have already helped in predicting COVID-19 hotspots allowing us to effectively route medical supplies, equipment and healthcare workers.
With more and more external data available, various factors and variables can be captured that might influence the supply chain, allowing incremental improvements to ETA and load matching to name a few. While Transport and Logistics is a key area for improvement potential from AI, a significant challenge is the uncertainty of events which COVID-19 has demonstrated. This means that companies should focus on building smarter supply chains that leverage AI and emerging technologies to analyse external data and maintain business continuity amid disruption and uncertainty. As some industries might continue to experience similar spending patterns such as groceries and consumer staples, data from the 2008 financial crisis could potentially be leveraged to provide some indication of how much demand there might be.
3) Mental Health
The impacts of COVID-19 have no doubt impacted every person in an unprecedented way. Widespread unemployment, physical distancing, isolation and endless uncertainties are bound to make many people feel anxious, stressed and worried. With the rise in domestic violence and child abuse cases, depression, alcoholism, etc., maintaining good mental health is more important than ever. With many people turning to virtual health consultations, there is potential for AI to provide even more channels of communication, interventions and opportunities to optimise treatments for stress, anxiety and depression. For example, AI chatbots are already being used to provide guided cognitive behavioral therapy, monitor mood patterns over time and analyse language and word choice for proactive mental health monitoring.
4) E-Commerce and Retail
Now is the time for companies to leverage technologies like AI, machine learning and chatbots to enable or improve online and e-commerce presence as restrictions and social distancing measures continue to impact consumer behaviour for the foreseeable future. Importantly, websites that use AI to support chat bots, consumer search and product recommendations sell significantly more than comparable websites without AI. As seen during the Global Financial Crisis, many Australians experimented with online shopping for the first time to find new ways to save money. Following this, Ecommerce growth almost doubled over the next four years and this change is likely to stick around for good with the current pandemic.
It is also believed that COVID-19 will cause a permanent shift toward digital sales channels. Some of the most important benefits of AI includes retargeting potential customers, predicting shopping patterns, and personalising the experience for customers. Another area where AI can be utilised is through AI-enhanced CRMs which can turn outside sales representatives into profitable remote employees through prioritising smart workflows and aggregating customer information.