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Changing attitudes to AI and the opportunities to utilize new technologies during the pandemic

(Image credit: Image Credit: Geralt / Pixabay)

Before 2020, the growth of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning was already ramping up. But with the unpredictable circumstances that we have experienced during the past 18 months, how has this changed? Has the demand increased, or perhaps even reduced?

Some industries have pushed ahead with their use of AI and machine learning, but plenty of others have seen little change in their attitudes towards the technology. For many companies, the value that they have seen with AI during the pandemic has led them to recognize that they can utilize it further and prepare for the future, while being considerate of changes that may need to occur in their workplace for this to happen. However, this is not true of all businesses - some have not changed their attitudes to AI, or only seen a slight change, during the pandemic, highlighting how some sectors are much more keen to adopt and utilize this technology than others.

There are many examples of where businesses are triumphing in the new normal through their use of AI, with many industries also making large changes to their use of AI and machine learning since early 2020. But for businesses and sectors that are yet to make the leap, what can they learn from other early adopters?

Attitudes towards AI and machine learning may differ between industries 

When it comes to industries making great strides in their use of AI since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, healthcare is undoubtedly near the top of the list.

During what has been an extremely challenging period for the healthcare sector, AI has had a significant positive contribution; for example, the use of AI in the National Covid-19 Chest Imaging Database (NCCID) has helped to predict which patients may progress into a critical condition, and allow treatment plans to be implemented much faster and more effectively. The use of AI in administrative and operational tasks within the healthcare system has also enabled healthcare workers to focus on improving patient care, as a result of the time gained back.

As a result of the social distancing requirements implemented throughout the pandemic, the fitness industry has also seen an AI-led transformation, with predictions suggesting that the fitness app market will hit $14.64 billion by 2027. The data, analysis, and AI markets in the fitness and health sectors are only set to grow further in years to come, as health and wellbeing are likely to become more of a priority for consumers following the pandemic. As a result, the opportunity for any businesses that can offer AI-driven fitness and wellbeing guidance is huge.

In addition to this, according to an online poll conducted by Apteco during our 2020 annual conference, a quarter of respondents working in marketing data science, analytics and campaigning are intending to continue the adoption of AI as planned pre-pandemic. Around 4 percent indicated that the pandemic has actually caused AI and machine learning to become a priority, however, a fifth of respondents have had to pause their AI plans due to limited resources as a result of Covid-19.

The McKinsey State of AI in 2020 report also highlighted a range of sectors and business functions that have seen their adoption of AI remain largely unaffected in comparison to the survey results from the previous year - these included marketing, sales, and product development.

Use AI as part of your approach when moving into the new normal 

As a result of the disruptions and uncertainties created by the pandemic, customer behavior is currently in a state of continuous change. Although retail footfall has dropped by 60 percent in some areas, global e-commerce has boomed, with sales now expected to increase by 20 percent year-on-year. These figures clearly highlight the huge changes in shopping behavior that many of us can also relate to on a personal level - who would have thought we would replace popping to a local shop with an online delivery in many cases?

In order to deliver a slick online shopping experience, many of these e-commerce businesses utilize AI-based tools and platforms to help guide a user through the vast online storefronts and create more focused and personalized searches. The online retail experience is very limited in comparison to the retail experiences we are used to on the high street - swapping tactile and multi-sensory physical stores for a series of 2D images on a screen is not always an easy swap for consumers, so any way to improve the process is a step in the right direction.

Although AI is growing at different rates from industry to industry, the past 18 months has highlighted the importance of a brand being able to adapt in order to remain competitive and stable. Technology is often a key component when it comes to a business being flexible in its approach - it can help to reveal new insights about current and potential customers while making data much easier to understand. When used well, these insights can help to prompt actions and changes that will lead to success and allow a business to meet the demands of customers as they adjust to the new normal during Covid-19 and beyond. Research also shows that 62 percent of consumers are willing to use AI to improve their experiences, which in turn is likely to encourage brands to do more.

AI and automation can also help to improve the experience for your employees as well as customers. By automating repetitive marketing tasks such as A/B testing and optimizing communications, employees can dedicate more time to delivering great customer experiences, which remain as important as ever during these unprecedented times.

What does the future look like for AI and machine learning? 

Although the Covid-19 crisis has changed many things for industries, businesses, and consumers alike, the ways in which we adapt and respond now have the potential to improve our ways of working and how our businesses operate into the long term. 

Some changes that we have experienced during the past 18 months may be more permanent than others - for example, a McKinsey report found that three to four times as many people may be working remotely post-pandemic when compared to pre-pandemic figures. Online shopping could also fall into this group, with online sales in the UK seeing a 74 percent increase in January 2021, making it the largest growth rate since the beginning of the first lockdown in 2020.

Some sectors such as education, fitness, and healthcare may have seen the greatest increase in the use of AI and machine learning throughout the pandemic, but there is plenty of opportunity for other sectors to soon see more adoption of the technology. The spread of technology and online access driven by the pandemic provides the space where many sectors can now use AI productively.

For any business, when looking to incorporate new technologies such as AI and machine learning into your transformation and strategy, it is crucial to keep trust at the forefront. More than 3 in 4 businesses reported that it is vital any results are “fair, safe and reliable”, while consumers, clients, and supporters will all need clarity and transparency on how their data is being used. If these technologies are used and implemented appropriately, it’s highly likely that we will only see the need for AI and machine learning increase in order for businesses to remain competitive, secure, and profitable, as the benefits and advantages become clearer.

James Alty, Founder and MD, Apteco

James Alty is the Founder and MD of Apteco, with over 30 years’ experience in the marketing analysis and automation arenas.