Over the last few years AI has grown in importance in a wide variety of fields such as healthcare, bioscience, education, transport, marketing, finance, cybersecurity and many more. We are increasingly surrounded by AI, which will further proliferate in 2021.
During the Covid-19 pandemic AI played an important role in finding a solution to the Covid-19 virus by elucidating unexplored viral pathways. Machine learning-based models, trained on specific biomolecules, have offered inexpensive and rapid implementation methods for the discovery of effective viral therapies. AI was also used in the quest for a suitable Covid-19 vaccine by helping researchers understand the virus and its structure, and by predicting which of its components will provoke an immune response
But as AI tools become more powerful in the coming years, computational methods could help scientists solve our most difficult vaccine challenges, such as finding an effective HIV vaccine, or creating a flu vaccine that will last for multiple years.
AI enters video conferencing
An exciting new development is Nvidia’s Broadcast app and its Omniverse Machinima (an app that lets characters and voices come to life) that uses AI to significantly enhance the voice and video of regular video conferencing software – our lifeline while working from home.
People spending hours in virtual meetings will know that the background can be problematic, especially if there are more than one member of the family busy with video conferencing and you have to work from your bedroom or an untidy room. Nvidia uses Graphics Processing Unit or GPU-centric capabilities to provide virtual backgrounds, which entails technologies like AI greenscreen effects and deepfakes (synthetic media in which a person in an existing image of video is replaced with someone else’s likeness) to give a more desirable and realistic virtual office than the very basic backgrounds currently available in video conferencing software.
The Qualcomm 8cx platform has a unique AI feature that adjusts your eyes in real time, so that it will appear to the remote audience that you are looking directly at them.
AI health monitoring
Although many people may not realise it, the popular health monitors build into our smart phones and watches are driven by AI and advanced algorithms. I believe that in 2021 we will see important developments in health monitoring. The current heart and pulse, oxygen saturation and sleep monitors will become more accurate and reliable. Blood pressure and glucose monitoring will be added. And all our vital signs will be linked directly to healthcare monitoring services for faster medical assistance during emergencies.
It may be problematic to some, but we will increasingly be surrounded by robots the years to come. And if the Boston Dynamics robots are anything to go by, we are in for an interesting ride since the new generation of robots are becoming extremely capable.
Very significantly, towards the end of 2020 the USA Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) approved drone delivery, including flights during night time and over populated areas. Although drones represent the fastest-growing segment in the transportation sector in many countries, in South Africa we will probably see it in the future in rural areas where conventional deliveries are not economical. After successful tests during the Covid-19 pandemic the supermarket chain Walmart will soon start delivering groceries and health and wellness products by air in major USA cities.
2021 a fascinating year
It is apparent that AI and robotic technologies are maturing, becoming more powerful and can add tremendous value to business. But 2021 may see many more innovative technologies such as flying cars, suits and motorcycles. Two startups, JetPack Aviation and Gravity Industries, are both focusing on vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) and human propulsion. Gravity Industries has developed a real-life ‘Iron Man’ flying suit while JetAviation is prototyping the Speeder, a fully stabilized flying autonomous motorcycle that can fly one or two individuals at over 400 km/h and the JB12 personal aerial Jetpack used by the US Navy Special Forces for short-distance troop transportation. However, besides military and paramedic use, these technologies will take time to mature into the mainstream commercial market.
Despite a difficult start due to the second Covid-19 wave, technology-wise 2021 will be a fascinating year. South Africa may unfortunately in some cases have to wait a bit longer for some of these technologies.