Artificial intelligence is increasingly becoming part of every enterprise strategy and as the pandemic battered the global economy in 2020, investments in AI technology accelerated with McKinsey estimating growth to surpass $90B by 2023.

Digital adoption because of the work from home models used by companies influenced further growth of AI and analysts estimate robust growth in 2021. Organizations are deriving value from artificial intelligence¹ and as every company strives to become the intelligence enterprise, 2021 will be the defining year of this digital transformation.

The focus of AI adoption will not be simply to improve the efficiency or effectiveness of operations. There has been a visible shift towards leveraging AI to improve stakeholder experience owing to the pandemic.

Some of the common themes in 2020 included AutoML, automation, bias in AI, COVID Impact, deep learning limits, ethical AI, GPT-3, medicine and healthcare, and MLOps. One huge AI and machine learning development was AlphaFold² from DeepMind, which has solved protein-folding roadblocks with huge potential for medicine and biology.

Going forward, Artificial Intelligence will be the intelligent nucleus of automated, robotic, and contactless processes that will protect us all from future outbreaks. With the COVID-19 crisis still on going, here are some predictions for AI techniques, tooling, platforms, and apps that will come to the forefront in the year to come.

Let us explore some key AI trends that will define 2021:

1. AI at the Workplace

It is predicted that in 2021, a sizeable number of companies in adaptive and growth mode will look to Artificial Intelligence to help with workplace disruption³ for both location-based, physical, or human-touch workers and knowledge workers working from home. AI will be used for things like customer service agent augmentation, return-to-work health tracking, and intelligent document extraction.

2. Intelligent Customer Experience

Businesses may use predictive analytics to forecast the needs of customers in a definitive way, even when the customer has made up his mind. Predictive analytics could, for instance, provide early signs of any shift in consumer behavior. In addition, predictive technologies allow marketers to be proactive, inspire them to optimize their messaging to fit the customers’ needs and service consumers effectively.

Let us explore an example. The retailer Room & Board managed to improve their bottom line and reach customers more effectively by implementing Salesforce’s Marketing Cloud technology. The tool was used to analyze customer traffic data and with the #predictiveanalytics feature the retailer was able “to suggest additional purchases to customers in real time” The result was rather impressive as the company managed to accomplish a whopping 2900 per cent return on investment.

3. Robotics

Agile AI is indispensable. In 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic will begin to recede, but in its aftermath, we will have handed off many formerly human functions to agile robots. These will have been trained partially or entirely through reinforcement learning to flexibly navigate, manage and manipulate objects in complex real-world scenarios. Biosensing, delivery, and disinfection will become dominant robotics segments, with drones among the dominant platforms for which RL-based AI apps will be trained.

4. Cybersecurity

AI seems to be constantly finding itself wrapped up in the world of #cybersecurity, for both corporate; an ongoing trend that is going nowhere. AI and machine learning technology can be used in cybersecurity⁶ to help identify threats, including variants of earlier threats. AI use will expand to create smart homes where the system learns the ways, habits, and preferences of its occupants, improving its ability to identify intruders and protect the home.

5. Education

More than 1.2 billion students in 186 countries are affected by the current school closures. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, most educational institutions have switched to #onlinelearning to be able to maintain social distancing, while ensuring that the learning and teaching process remains largely uninterrupted.

The sudden shift away from classrooms to online learning has left many wondering how this would impact education systems around the world. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, edtech had already been seeing an uptick in popularity in recent years.

A good example is Century, a platform that was recently launched at a group of public schools in Lebanon. It uses AI technology to provide personalized learning content and offers educators real-time insights and analytics. Research shows that the platform helps increase a student’s understanding of a topic by 30 per cent. We can expect to see more and more schools adopting intelligent learning platforms like these in the near future.

6. Hyperautomation

Hyperautomation is the application of advanced technologies like #artificialintelligence and machine learning to augment workers and automate processes in ways that are significantly more impactful than traditional automation capabilities. Automated business processes must be able to adapt to changing circumstances and respond to unexpected situations, hence the need for AI. This is something we’ll be seeing more of in the new year, no doubt.

7. Augmented Intelligence

Artificial intelligence is built in such a way that can work and react like humans, while augmented intelligence uses machines in ways that they enhance the capabilities of human workers. Basically, augmented intelligence involves people and machines working together to use their strengths to achieve increased business value, basically. The main goal of #augmentedintelligence is to empower humans to perform better.

Platforms that provide augmented intelligence⁸ can collect all types of data, both structured and unstructured, from many sources in decentralized and isolated systems, and they present this data in a way that allows human workers to fully understand each customer.

The insights are more significant and more profound than those provided by the ‘ordinary AI’. As a result, workers can gain a better understanding of what is happening in the sector, what may affect their customers, and the opportunities or threats that may arise. This wealth of information combined with human intelligence is what makes this technology so powerful.

8. More Ethical AI

One of the biggest things we are expecting in 2021 is a rising demand for the ethical use of Artificial Intelligence. Previously, companies adopted AI and machine learning without a huge amount of thought to the ethics behind them. Now, consumers and employees expect companies to adopt AI in a responsible manner. Over the next number years, companies will deliberately choose to do business with partners that commit to data ethics and adopt data handling practices that reflect their own values as well as their customers’ values.

9. Facial Recognition

Authenticated AI is imperative. In 2021, enterprises will implement #facialrecognition for strong authentication in a growing range of internal and customer-facing applications. For the same reason, business will increasingly avoid using the technology to inference identity, race, gender, and other attributes that might be sensitive from a privacy, bias, or surveillance standpoint.

To the extent that businesses incorporate facial recognition in image/video auto-tagging, query-by-image, and other such applications, it will only be after extensive review by legal counsel. The regulatory sensitivity of this technology, and the legal risks, will only grow for the near future.

10. AIOps Expansion

The complexity of IT systems has been exponentially increasing for the past several years. Forrester recently noted that vendors have responded with platform solutions that combine several once-siloed monitoring disciplines — such as infrastructure, application, and networking. An AIOps solution enables IT operations and other teams to improve key processes and decision-making through improved analysis of the volumes of data coming its way.

Forrester advises IT leaders to look for AIOps providers who can empower cross-team collaboration through data correlation, provide end-to-end digital experience, and integrate seamlessly into the whole IT operations management toolchain.

Technology will advance in 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has crippled the world’s economies and many sectors are struggling for survival. There are innovative ways to help us on the road to recovery, but businesses and institutions need to focus on creating a strong, technology-powered competitive edge.

AI-powered applications are growing exponentially, in number as well as in scope, with researchers and scientists continuously finding new ways to use AI to design high-value products and services. Artificial intelligence is impacting the future of every single industry and every single human being. It has been the driver of technologies like robotics, big data, and the IoT, and will likely continue to act as a technological innovator in the future.

Works Cited

¹Artificial Intelligence, ²AlphaFold, ³Workplace Disruption, ⁴Predictive analytics, ⁵Robotics, ⁶Cybersecurity, ⁷Online Learning, ⁸Augmented Intelligence