Guest Author: Shannon Flynn, Managing Editor of Rehack

2020 was going to be a monumental year for AI, and then a pandemic broke out. The COVID-19 outbreak has sent shockwaves throughout nearly every industry, so what about AI? How will the cultural and economic impacts of the virus affect the development and implementation of this technology?

In some areas, the pandemic has given AI the chance to prove its worth. Different parts of the population may have developed opposing feelings toward the concept, though. In the wake of COVID-19, AI could play a more dominant role in society, but possibly a different one than some expected.


AI's Changing Role in Health Care


You can't talk about AI and COVID-19 without mentioning how the technology will impact health care. The pandemic has made it evident that health authorities can, and should, adopt more AI. If officials had relied on it already, there's a chance they could have slowed the outbreak.


In December of 2019, three different AIs noticed warning signs of an upcoming disease outbreak. The World Health Organization (WHO) didn't highlight the virus until more than a week later. It's challenging to say for sure, but if officials acted on those early warnings from AI, it may have saved lives.


Following this pandemic, health organizations and governments will likely learn from their mistakes. AI has continued to show promise in predicting, diagnosing and treating disease. As a result, developing systems for health care will be an area of focus for AI companies in the future.


AI and Employment


Because of various coronavirus-related factors, 24.7 million Americans lost their jobs between February and April. Many businesses couldn't stay open due to lockdowns or didn't make enough money to keep their staff. In some instances, AI has filled the gap where companies have been unable to turn to employees.


Cutbacks have caused many businesses to turn to AI applications like chatbots or content-monitoring systems. Since they're becoming used to these technologies, they may not go back. As a result, more companies may replace some positions with AI.


This shift will mean more profitability for companies, but a wave of job losses for workers. On the other hand, positions in areas like AI development and IT roles will increase. Filling these openings will take time, though, so there will likely be a dip in employment overall.


AI's Target Market


These unemployment rates, AI-caused or otherwise, will affect AI's consumer base. Because of the coronavirus-spurred recession, fewer people will be looking to buy expensive technology. As a result, consumer AI will probably decrease.


On the flip side, businesses that can gain more from AI will adopt it at higher rates. Since AI has the potential to boost the economy by 16% by 2030, corporations will continue, and even accelerate, buying AI tech. For developers, this means an increased focus on creating enterprise-level AI over technology for consumers.


Ironically, early expert predictions for AI in 2020 said consumer AI would increase. After COVID-19 job losses and recessions, though, that's probably not the case anymore.


COVID-19 Won't End AI, but it Will Change it


In some ways, AI is more relevant than ever. Businesses and authorities alike have come to realize its potential. Its focus and development, though, won't play out the way early predictions thought they would.


After the pandemic, AI will be a helpful resource in many areas, but it may also bring some negative side effects. These downsides, like unemployment and reduced consumer spending, will go away over time, though. 2020 may still be the year of AI, just not the way people initially thought.