Over the past year, we have seen the acceleration of technology and science despite the devastation that COVID has had on businesses and many core industries. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have pushed science faster than ever before with the goal of a vaccine that is already rolling out across the nation. With a handful of additional companies already in late stage testing of a vaccine, we may see a return to normalcy in 2021, or rather a new-normal.
Reflecting on the past year, we’ve seen major advancements in AI and ML and how these technologies impact core business planning and operations. Last year, commercial airlines were simply using machine learning tech to predict what passengers would order for lunch, this year ML is featured in the boardroom daily to better understand how to restart business, maximize services, reduce risk in a continuously volatile travel market, and more. The point I’m making is that AI and ML have found a foothold in nearly every industry—elevating from engineering and R&D to the boardroom—and I believe in 2021 there will be tons of new activity that will grab headlines. These are my predictions for what to expect in the industry:
CSPs, Hardware, And The Race To Dominate In-Cloud AI
For years, NVIDIA, Intel, and Arm have been front and center when it comes to AI chips – while there are competitors everywhere, the market dominance of these companies has never really been disrupted. But the introduction of cloud computing and the exponential advances that AI researchers have made over the past five to 10 years have changed the playing field, pitting the chip giants’ against their biggest customers—CSPs—in the race for cloud AI dominance.
The examples are everywhere – look at Google Cloud TPU or Amazon’s many tools in this space. I believe we’ve moved past the cloud wars, and into the cloud AI wars, with CSPs and hardware providers duking it out for supremacy.
Healthcare Will Be Increasingly Reliant On AI
Healthcare is perhaps the industry where AI can add the most value over the next year (and maybe even the next decade). The challenges our global healthcare systems have faced due to Covid-19 have spotlighted this need, and also the opportunity.
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Despite regulatory caution, I believe AI will revolutionize healthcare in 2021 – from reducing administrative complexity to scanning X-rays and MRIs for more immediate results. This increase will be especially beneficial in communities with strained healthcare systems and that lack the resources and staff of well-funded counterparts.
Automation will also make its way into drug and vaccine development because society will continue to be hyper focused on other use cases of the mRNA technology that helped produce the Covid-19 vaccines in record time. It will also be interesting to continue watching the evidence from AlphaFold about predicting how proteins fold. This development proved that the AI being built by DeepMind can go beyond playing video games – and in fact shows great promise for our future health and well being.
Chip Deals Will Continue To Take Center Stage
This was also one of my predictions for 2020, and while we saw big moves happen over the past 12 months, I don’t think we should expect for anything big to slow down soon. I believe we’ll continue to see big chip deals in 2021, despite the fact that some governments have objected to such moves in the past.
From my point of view, governments trying to previously stop similar deals have seemed to be more focused on political reasons than truly being driven by anti-compete reasoning and I don’t believe this will hinder the big players. However, we may see some middle and smaller sized companies avoid doing big deals because they don’t want to cross regulators.
AI Transformation Is The New Digital Transformation… For Some Industries.
Many industries, including transportation, hospitality, and dining, have long resisted the pull of digital transformation. In 2021, that will change, particularly when it comes to those industries that have been hit hard by the impact of COVID-19. There’s simply too much opportunity to ignore, and those that don’t embrace automation will find themselves falling behind.
I see a similar path for AI. The industries best equipped to embrace digital transformation were those who were digital-first: internet companies, telecom, etc. What industries are likely to embrace AI first? Those with data-driven decision making as central to how they operate: think internet companies, pharmaceuticals, finance, and others.
I expect to see AI introduced to the long tail of industries in myriad ways – airlines will leverage predictive analytics to optimize food consumption, and therefore waste, while hospitality and healthcare companies will look to automate more mundane tasks like data collection and categorization, freeing up skilled workers for more complex tasks. Across all these industries, what we’ll really see is AI in the boardroom – top executives will embrace new technologies like never before, leading even the most stagnant of industries to begin modernizing.
All in all, I am excited to see how AI and ML will be used this year to address a wide variety of global challenges and opportunities across industries.