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The Top 6 Trends in Artificial Intelligence to Watch in 2021

It’s the Golden Year of AI Implementation

There’s no denying it: 2020 has been the most turbulent year in recent memory. Restrictions imposed in attempts to contain COVID-19 have transformed the way people interact and conduct business. Gone are the days of in-person conferences, meetings, and large crowds. Instead, remote work and social distancing have become the norm as people grapple with the deadly and global impact of a microscopic organism. However, the pandemic has proven to be an advantage in one domain: technology.

COVID-19 has certainly spurred the growth of AI and machine learning (ML), automating manual tasks in business, allowing consumers to shop remotely, and assisting health organizations contain the outbreak while preventing future ones.

And although AI and ML were causing disruption in many industries prior to 2020, the advent of COVID-19 has highlighted the vast potential of technologies to forever change the way we live, work and socialize.

So, what can we expect in the near future? 2021 has been called the golden year for AI implementation. With the birth of many innovative systems in 2020, industries have realized the potential of AI to save costs and time, while increasing profitability. We’re at the beginning of a new chapter in artificial intelligence. Here are some of the top advancements we can expect in 2021.

1. Hyperautomation

First identified as a trend within AI by Gartner, the term Hyperautomation is used to describe the high level of automation that is possible to achieve using AI. Under this theory, any process that can be digitalized and automated will be, allowing employees more time to focus on the higher value activities that need human insights or critical thinking. Hyperautomation also allows organizations to analyze their business processes, identifying which parts should continue to be automated and which ones would be more effective with human assistance. 

Organizations that strive towards hyper-automation in 2021 will use a variety of tools in the form of software, IoT, machine learning, and other forms of AI to first automate individual parts of their business processes and then combine these automated processes into one. 

For example, take hyper-automation in call centers. Done correctly, hyper-automation will consolidate all the information and tools that customer service agents need to handle a call within one application, rather than requiring them to switch back and forth between several, as many do now. This enables faster evaluation of individual situations and a better response to each call. 

2. Leaps in Chatbot Development

The days when a chatbot could only answer a handful of questions are gone, and in recent years chatbots have become increasingly sophisticated, able to handle complex questions and respond in a more human way. This is a trend that will continue in 2021, as chatbot developments are changing the way that humans are able to interact with and get information from machines. 

AI, particularly machine learning and natural language processing, is behind these improvements, ensuring that chatbots can handle more nuanced questions from customers, respond in more natural and effective ways and assess sentiment and meaning beyond the simple questions that are asked. 

As chatbots advance, more companies will adopt them as an effective solution for customer service challenges. This adoption will push even further development within the chatbot industry, which should make for a fast-paced and interesting 2021.

3. Emphasis on Ethics within AI

When considering ethics within AI, data privacy immediately emerges as the top concern, especially as data is being collected and stored in staggering volumes.  In response to these concerns about the security of stored data, federated learning is a major trend to watch in 2021. Since first being introduced by Google in 2017, research and developments on federated learning have increased at a rapid rate. 

In short, federated learning allows for machine learning to take place in many different locations, rather than in one central cloud location. Devices are taught using algorithms that access local data, reducing the need for vast amounts of data to be stored in one place and therefore decreasing the possibility of a large-scale data breach. 

The push for Ethical AI development is another major topic to watch in 2021. As AI gains the ability to do more, the responsibility for humans to build AI that responds and acts in an ethical way increases along with it. 

Ethical AI pushes the idea that as AI advances, ethical issues such as AI bias, wealth inequality and how that AI is used (for example, facial recognition or in combat war zones) must also be carefully considered. As with most issues within ethics, the answers are not clear-cut,  but 2021 will bring about a push to consider the ethics of AI along with major advancements. 

4. Augmented Intelligence 

As companies test and innovate the use of AI within their individual operations, augmented intelligence will be a major trend. Augmented intelligence is the term used to describe the practice of using AI to enhance human performance, rather than replace it. 

For example, within healthcare, professionals are using AI to diagnose conditions and devise treatments faster and more accurately than ever before. AI’s power to quickly handle and analyze large amounts of data combined with the experience, intuition and critical thinking of healthcare professionals is an impressive demonstration of augmented intelligence. 

2021 will be a continuation of humans using AI in a smart way to augment performance and output on a large scale.

5. Increased AI use within Finance

The financial services industry is quickly moving many operations online, as evidenced from the rise in digital banks and fintech companies. As a result, AI is already proving its usefulness within the financial services field. 

Corporate finance companies use AI to predict and assess loan risks, banks are using it to be provide 24/7 support and availability to customers. A report by the Economist Intelligence Unit found that overall, 54% of Financial Services organizations with more than 5,000 employees are already using AI in regular operations, a number that will most likely increase in 2021.  

Another major use for AI within Finance in 2021 is enhanced fraud detection. Many financial institutions currently use AI to detect fraud, but as cases of fraud get more sophisticated, the tools to detect it must evolve as well. With the ability to analyze patterns and quickly and accurately identify suspicious activity, more advanced AI operations will help detect cases of fraud quickly and identify potential security issues before they become a liability to the customer or the organization.

6. AI-powered Devices

In 2021, the links between hardware, the Internet of Things (IoT) and AI will become even more embedded, as the use of AI-powered devices in our daily lives continues. These devices are found in all types of situations and range from complex technical tasks to personal exercise devices. For example, in healthcare, AI-powered devices are enhancing outcomes. This glove is in development to help people with Parkinson’s regain a steady hand. This device developed in part by Google is helping the blind to see. Within radiology and robotics, devices powered are enhancing diagnosis and overall outcomes for patients. 

On the more casual side, the use of AI-powered devices for leisure will increase. From bikes with built-in fitness trackers, to home gyms, to smart razors to baby monitors, there’s a smart device for any situation and AI is the driving factor that makes it stand out. 

AI is a fast-moving field, with innovations occurring at an impressive pace. Within one year, the technology is sure to look very different than it does today. We can’t wait to see what the future will bring!


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