June 14, 2020

5 ways AI is helping people cope with COVID-19

Technology has been a central factor for human survival, since the discovery of fire. We are currently witnessing the fourth industrial revolution, which is growing at an unprecedented speed compared to previous industrial revolutions and is being led by emerging technologies such as AI. 


Yet, the COVID-19 pandemic is reshaping the way we live, and despite the economic downturn, we are witnessing the fruits of the industrial revolution. According to a 2018 study by McKinsey & Company, countries that are leading the AI revolution are predicted to tap an additional 20% to 25% in net economic benefits, while companies that absorb AI over the coming five to seven years could potentially double their cash flow. [1]


While obvious AI applications include predictive text on search engines and face recognition on mobile phones, AI is directly impacting large industries in the way they operate and conduct internal functions. More importantly, it’s helping individuals and businesses mitigate through the crisis.


  1. Empowering healthcare workers to deliver more accurate results

AI can offer personalized healthcare services by predicting which patients can benefit from which drug based on data from previous patients. Additionally, AI in healthcare is significantly improving efficiency, saving costs and time for doctors and patients. 


In fact, the technology is assisting doctors in early detection by translating mammograms 30 times faster than manual checks by human doctors, with 99% accuracy, as per a PwC report.[2] MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and Massachusetts General Hospital have created a new model earlier this year that can predict from a mammogram whether a patient is likely to develop breast cancer as far as five years before it develops.[3]

Read here to know more about how AI is reforming healthcare.

  1. Facilitating education from home

Many countries have called on schools and educational institutions to operate online. Fortunately, AI-assisted education platforms have been tested for years, and are now facing the biggest test of all. 


Long have digital education startups claimed that AI can offer students personalized learning. With AI-assisted learning, students are learning at their own pace and generating personalized reports. Students can also receive recommended practice exercises to enhance their learning based on their performance per topic with AI-enabled education systems. 


AI-powered chatbots are also being developed to answer questions by students, acting as a personal teaching assistant. As for teachers, the technology is automating administrative tasks to save significant time and effort.


  1. Combating climate change 

While the Earth’s ozone layer is recovering, it is not directly because of COVID-19.[4] 

  • Saving energy

Machine learning, a subset of artificial intelligence, has been helping scientists improve predictions of how much electricity and energy we need. This information is applied to power generation and demand forecasting, which helps utility operators know when to bring renewable sources online and assists in real-time electricity scheduling.[4] With more people staying at home, this becomes even more crucial. 


  • Eliminating deforestation

AI has also been used to track deforestation, which contributes to around 10% of global greenhouse-gas emissions. Satellite imagery and computer vision automatically detect when trees are cut. Combined with algorithms that detect the sounds of chainsaws, law enforcement can track and stop illegal activity.[5]


  1. Keeping us safe and secure online

While much of the world practices social distancing and stays indoors, cyber-attacks are on the increase. For companies, this means they must heighten their security efforts more than ever, which can be maximised by using AI. 


An AI-enabled network defence mechanism can react quickly and at any time to threats. Humans may receive an alarm once a threat is detected and that would take time to be responded to. On the other hand, an AI system can react automatically against any potential threat, quicker than human response, and can also anticipate risks before they occur. This is by continuously learning to become more preventive rather than reactive.  


  1. Providing quick and personalized customer service

One of the repercussions of COVID-19 is an increase in delivery services. Thus, delivery companies need to respond to dozens of customers quickly, and sometimes this can be impossible. With robotic process automation (RPA), companies can automate responses to sound human-like and offer great customer service.  


Generally, RPA is the automation of basic tasks by bots or software robots. With RPA, bots can respond to emails and text messages automatically, by identifying requests or questions from customers and responding accordingly. This cuts major costs for several industries that offer customer support, reduces manual labour, minimizes errors, and maximizes production as it can respond to queries 24/7. It also improves employee morale because it automates basic administrative tasks, freeing up more time for employees to focus on value-driven tasks. 


Concluding notes

Overall, the fourth industrial revolution has been fundamentally reshaping the way we work, live, and communicate, and the pandemic has in some ways shed light on the significance of today’s innovations. The scale, scope, and complexity of this transformation are nothing like humanity has witnessed before, and it is involving all major stakeholders from academia, civil society, and the private and public sectors. Intelligent robots, neuro-technological brain enhancements, and genetic editing are a few of the ways technological advancements are dramatically impacting our lives. Compared to its precedent industrial revolutions, our current technological advancements are evolving exponentially, and its disruptive nature is impacting most industries globally. Soon, we will see the true impact of work-from-home and the dependence of more companies on new technologies as a way of survival, and a way to remain relevant in the global market. 


[1] Bughin, Jacques, et al. “Notes from the AI Frontier: Modeling the Impact of AI on the World Economy.” McKinsey & Company, Sept. 2018, https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/artificial-intelligence/notes-from-the-ai-frontier-modeling-the-impact-of-ai-on-the-world-economy

[2] PricewaterhouseCoopers. “No Longer Science Fiction, AI and Robotics Are Transforming Healthcare.” PwC, June 2017, https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/industries/healthcare/publications/ai-robotics-new-health/transforming-healthcare.html.

[3] Conner-Simons, Adam, and Rachel Gordon. “Using AI to Predict Breast Cancer and Personalize Care.” Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 7 May 2019, http://news.mit.edu/2019/using-ai-predict-breast-cancer-and-personalize-care-0507

[4] World Economic Forum, Earth’s ozone layer is continuing to recover,  30 Mar 2020, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/03/news-stories-pterosaur-bleaching/

[5] Rolnick, David, et al. “Tackling Climate Change with Machine Learning.” Cornell University, 10 June 2019, arXiv:1906.05433.  

[6] Hao, Karen. “Here Are 10 Ways AI Could Help Fight Climate Change.” MIT Technology Review, 20 June 2019, https://www.technologyreview.com/s/613838/ai-climate-change-machine-learning/