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COVID-19 and Artificial Intelligence: How Have Attitudes to AI Changed Through the Pandemic?

Prior to the pandemic, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning had been predicted to grow. But just how far has that demand increased, or has it even reduced due to the COVID-19?

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Interestingly, while some industries are finding that the use of AI and machine learning is accelerating, others have seen little or no change in attitude. For businesses that are noticing a higher value in AI during the pandemic, many are recognizing opportunities to prepare for the future whilst also considering the changes necessary in their workplace. However, the fact that some businesses’ attitudes to AI have not changed – or changed minimally – since the pandemic, shows that some sectors have a much higher need for AI than others.

Below, we’ll take a look at instances where AI is helping businesses to triumph in the new normal, as well as the industries that have been making big changes to their use of machine learning and AI since early 2020, and what other businesses could learn from this.

How are industries differing in their attitudes towards AI? 

Firstly, let’s take a look at an industry that has made leaps and bounds in their use of AI since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic – healthcare.

There is no doubt that AI has contributed positively to the healthcare sector during this time; for example, the creation of a database that helps to speed up diagnosis of Covid-19 and predict which patients are likely to have a more critical reaction to the disease. There has also been more development in the use of AI to help reduce time on administrative tasks so healthcare workers’ time can be spent on improving care for patients.

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In another sector, the fitness industry is also experiencing an AI-led transformation through new products and services that were born as a result of COVID-19 and the social distancing it required. In fact, research predicts that the fitness app market will hit $14.64 billion by 2027.  Data, analysis and the application of AI and machine learning to fitness and health are expected to be massive markets in years to come. As health and wellbeing is expected to be more highly valued by consumers post-pandemic, the ability to offer AI driven fitness and wellbeing guidance will be hugely valuable to those businesses that get it right.

Further to that research, an online poll conducted by Apteco during our annual conference held at the end of last year found that a quarter of respondents working in the areas of marketing data science, analytics and campaigning are continuing to prioritise the adoption of AI as planned. For a few (4%), AI and machine learning are now a priority because of the pandemic, but a fifth of respondents have had to put their AI plans on hold due to unexpectedly limited resources as a result of the pandemic.

Interestingly, The McKinsey State of AI in 2020 report highlighted a selection of sectors and business functions where the adoption of AI remained mostly unchanged from the previous year’s survey – these included marketing, along with sales and product development.

How can AI assist businesses in moving out of the pandemic and into the new normal?

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The behavior of customers is constantly adapting in line with changes and disruptions happening due to the pandemic. For example, whilst retail footfall has plunged by 60% in some areas, global e-commerce sales are now expected to rise by 20% year on year.  This highlights the huge changes in shopping behavior we have each seen in our personal lives since the pandemic began. Who would have thought cardboard delivery boxes would become such a useful resource?

Behind many of these e-commerce businesses and the platforms they use are AI tools helping the online shopping experience. For many, buying goods through a 2D image on a screen is very limited compared to the tactile retail experience of the high street, so AI guidance can help focus searches and make the process enjoyable for the consumer and also effective for the retailer.

Despite the growth of AI varying from industry to industry in the last year, the ability for brands to adapt has never been more important in order to remain competitive and secure.

The role of technology can be extremely positive here, to help give a better understanding of data and reveal new insights about current and potential customers. Used well, this insight will prompt actions that will lead to success and continue to evolve as consumers adjust to the new normal in Covid-19 and beyond. Further to that, research shows that 62% of consumers are willing to use AI to improve their experiences, which is likely to encourage brands to do more.

Automation and AI can also benefit the people behind your brand by automating certain repetitive marketing tasks – such as A/B testing and optimizing communications. This will not only benefit your employees but improve your service to customers as well, which remains as important as ever during these unprecedented times.

Looking to the future 

The COVID-19 crisis has changed many things for industries, businesses, and consumers, however, the way we respond has the potential to improve how we work and how our organizations operate moving forward.

There are some parts of our lives that are highly unlikely to go back to normal – such as remote working, an area in which a McKinsey report found that three to four times as many people could be working remotely after the pandemic than prior to it.

Online shopping is another area that has seen a significant increase in the year since the pandemic started, with online sales in the UK growing by 74% in January 2021 (the largest growth rate since the start of the first lockdown).

While we might expect sectors such as education, fitness, and healthcare to have the largest increase in AI and machine learning usage during the pandemic, this doesn’t mean that other sectors will not soon start AI deployments. The spread of technology and online access is driven by the pandemic provides the space where many sectors can now use AI productively.

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Ultimately, when incorporating AI and machine learning into your business’ strategy or transformation, it’s critical to keep trust at the core; more than 3 in 4 businesses reported that it’s vital the results obtained are “fair, safe and reliable”.  Consumers, clients, and supporters all need clarity and transparency on how their data is used.  If this is followed, and as the benefits and advantages become increasingly clear, we shouldn’t be surprised to see a need for AI and machine learning increase in order to stay competitive, secure, and profitable.

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