Comment: How AI is driving societal change

AIIntelligent technologies such as AI are benefitting a variety of industries in specific ways, says Antonio Espingardeiro, IEEE member and software and robotics expert

It should come as no surprise that, since the pandemic hit, society has relied on technology more than ever before. In fact, according to an Ofcom report1, April 2020 saw adults within the UK spend a daily average of four hours and two minutes online, which is up from just under three and a half hours in September the previous year. Further research2 has found that the daily active UK users of Zoom reached a peak of 1.7 million towards the end of November 2020.

Looking ahead, telecommunications and sharing platforms will continue to play a fundamental role in society, as the ability to stay safe, yet work and connect with others will remain paramount. That being said, it is not just social media and communication platforms that have surged. Advancements in AI have been particularly interesting, with a recent survey3 finding that more than a third (36 percent) of companies across Europe accelerating the rollout of AI as a direct result of the pandemic. This suggests that we can expect to see more utilisation of this technology across varying sectors.

The evolution of retail

Prior to the pandemic, the retail industry was rapidly changing, as an increasing number of consumers opted to purchase goods online. To stay competitive, many retailers are embracing digital transformation by adopting AI processes. AI enables retailers to make better business decisions by offering products and services which are tailored to their target market. Predictive analytics can help retailers order the right amount of stock, track data from online channels and inform better e-commerce strategies. By identifying individual customer search patterns and presenting appropriate advertisements, AI algorithms are starting to overpower traditional marketing methods.

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Retailers are not the only ones to benefit from this. From a consumer’s point of view, they are not only able to easily find the products and services that fit their needs, but they can also seamlessly compare prices to get the best deals. Additional benefits include AI customer support or chatbot agents, which can forward users to the right person, who can then deliver customer support and make the pre and post selling more fulfilling.

Technology transforming healthcare

As we have seen much of over the last year, the healthcare sector deals with critical challenges such as a lack of time, resources, and budgets. Recently, advanced technologies have significantly helped healthcare workers cope with high demand rates and improve the overall quality of patient care. For example, AI-embedded technologies can help healthcare workers better manage resources, optimise shifts, dispense medications, and deal with the supply chain systems for ordering new medication.

Robotic systems are also transformative in hospital settings, as automation can help surgeons perform demanding and complex surgeries. One of the main areas of AI in hospital settings can be seen with AI embedded in information systems, which cover everything from patient diagnostics to healthcare monitoring and supply chain management. Another area is the use of automation such as robotic medication dispensers’, which can help clinicians deliver medication to patients at the needed time. Lastly, the use of highly advanced robotic systems which assist human surgeons in complex surgeries can result in less trauma and faster recovery times for patients.

Staying sustainable

One incredibly hot topic which we should all be addressing now is sustainability. As the everyday choices individuals and organisations make can significantly impact the environment, it is important to opt for tools and processes that make this easier. AI robotic systems can address sustainability in very innovative and surprising ways, and complete fundamental tasks such as recycling.

Due to odours and an increase in bacteria, recycling centres can be difficult places for humans to work, and many find it challenging to cope with tasks such as trash selection for recycling purposes. This is a great example of where AI robotics with mechanical arms can help, as they can pick and sort through different types of trash. These machines are equipped with high resolution cameras which can run image recognition algorithms to identify an object’s chemical composition. By recognising features such as shape, colour, and size, the robot will know which container to drop the object in for recycling.

As many of us become increasingly familiar with intelligent technologies, such as AI, it is great to see how it can benefit a variety of industries in specific ways. By embracing digital transformation, organisations and individuals can use technology to the best of its ability, pave the way for future generations and improve society as a whole.

Antonio Espingardeiro, IEEE member and software and robotics expert