Original publication: Medium
By Gary Fowler
There comes a day when the world has to face something tragic, overpowering, shocking.
But every such tragedy brings out the genius and will in people to adapt, fight, and win.
The pandemic that is taking over the world today — and taking the lives of many — has been devastating in its scale and is no exception to this rule.
But unlike all the past crises the world has faced historically, this one is different from them all. And it is different due to the age and context it erupted in — in a highly digitized, tech-driven, and efficient world that is primed to quick adaptation and even progress in such circumstances now more than ever.
Technological advancement is what sets our situation apart from any other predicament we have found ourselves in. Today, we have more tools than ever to accelerate the recovery of the world and facilitate the smooth tradition to a better, healthier and more resilient society that comes out of each calamity stronger. And in some ways, this advantage is largely driven to breakthroughs such as artificial intelligence.
AI has been a buzzword roaming around for a few years now; it has been the trend all companies want to follow, the hot topic everyone wants to discuss, the movement everyone wants to be part of. And while AI has certainly been a wave that has transformed a lot of companies and given them a significant competitive advantage, it’s not the only way it can be useful — and its true potential could be unleashed and put to use in our current situation more than ever.
Let’s explore some ways AI can aid in the uphill battle with the pandemic — and help the world get back on its feet as soon as possible.
It has officially been over a month now since people around the world have consciously and intentionally distanced themselves from the others in efforts to contain the spread of the virus. And while the method is important to slow down the rate of spreading and minimize the infections, we are all human and isolation is not something that can be sustained with a 100% success rate.
And there is nothing wrong with that. Yes, we can forget ourselves in the middle of an engaging conversation and step closer. Yes, we can draw our shopping cart too close to the people at the produce section trying to reach for that one juicy tomato we laid our eyes on.
In other words, yes, we can sense an urge for normalcy and subconsciously fall back into our usual patterns of behavior.
In our current situation, AI has the potential to serve as a reminder of keeping up such an inorganic distance that we as humans are not used to. With all the grocery stores and pharmacies still operating to aid people in their daily needs, they also have a difficult time enforcing the distancing within stores to ensure minimal contact and maximum spacing between all customers. Today, long and evenly-spaced lines outside of stores have become a norm. Restricted or forbidden access to inside the store has also become a norm — and yet it’s impossible to keep an eye on everyone at all times to ens moo ure the rules are closely followed.
Looking at what AI is capable of today, it might be just the right solution to push us all to be better at keeping the distance and to aid the stores maintain efficient spacing and operations within. If applied with caution and discretion, there are a number of things AI can allow to control and streamline to help us battle the pandemic.
With the rise of smart video surveillance, the stores can reopen their doors to the customers with more confidence thanks to AI video analysis’ help in monitoring the inflow of customers. With the ability of modern technology to detect specific objects and even search for them within the video can help stores ensure that the incoming customers wear face masks and covers at all times. The technology can be trained to estimate the distance between the customers when the workers are focusing on delivering quality service to the customers, warning the store managers about dangerous proximities between the people within the store and facilitating the process of maintaining the six-feet distance.
Finally, as the technology advances in sophistication, it can be trained to detect the customers who can potentially be carriers of the virus and monitor their distance by cross-checking with the database of positively-tested patients across medical points.
In other words, AI’s unique ability to quickly learn and pick up on patterns can open a new door to overcoming the global emergency we face today — whether it’s to nudge more people to wear masks outside of their homes, remind them to keep the distance, or have the people who can potentially be sick practice extra care and discretion.
Business agility and adaptability
It is no news that implementing AI can help businesses accelerate growth, maximize efficiency and streamline internal workflow among many other improvements.
And no other time than now is the best to begin a journey towards higher digitization to survive, thrive and progress in current difficult times.
AI’s unique ability to resemble a human “brain” makes it a great addition to any company’s infrastructure because it offers a few opportunities to increase agility and adaptability in the current climate.
First, in times when employees work from home and are prone to lose momentum and motivation, AI technology can allow them to focus their efforts and time fully on high-involvement tasks that require their expertise — it can allow them to pursue self-actualization and contribute to the company’s continued growth by taking care of the basic, easy yet time-consuming tasks that can get frustrating. From automatically scheduling meetings to sending reminders about tasks and deadlines, AI can be very useful today in keeping the spirits — and, by extension, the productivity levels — of all employees in times when the line between work and life is blurred and there is so much uncertainty looming around.
AI can also help with facilitating communication between employees now that virtual work has become the new normal. Very often, distance and time difference interrupt a steady communication flow between co-workers; with AI’s ability to identify changes in usual behaviors, the companies can learn to identify if an employee needs a nudge for more motivation, encouragement for more engagement, or support if they are struggling. Whether it’s a one-on-one with the manager, a virtual team off-site to maintain high spirits, or a brainstorming session to push employee emagination, AI can help understand what the people need on a deeper level based on the slight changes in their communication patterns in order to keep up the good work and have an easier time coping with the extenuating circumstances.
No matter what challenge humanity faces — we face — we overcome it by adapting, learning, and healing.
And in contrast to all other predicaments we have found ourselves in, this one can be different — with the different circumstances we are in. Today, we have a chance to rebound faster, become more resilient, and overcome the difficulties by looking around and tapping into the resources at hand to fight the pandemic together.
And the advanced technology we have today that has never been available before might well be the necessary push — if not the key — to our victory.