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4 AI Trends to Watch in 2021

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Jenna Delport
Jenna Delport
I’m a tech writer, world traveller, avocado-eater and dog lover, not always in that order.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is gaining notable momentum across a number of industries. The past year saw rapid digital transformation spurred by COVID-19, with new technologies being adopted almost overnight. Entering 2021, the same upward trajectory can be expected as AI becomes an increasingly normal part of society.

“In the past, many companies have dipped their toes into digital technologies such as AI, automation, and the Internet of Things (IoT), but 2020 proved to be the year to dive headfirst,” says Dries Cronje, CEO of Deep Learning Café.

Local organisations are actively piloting AI within their businesses, experimenting with a range of different technologies, such as chatbots, virtual assistants and image recognition.

“This is the beginning of an exciting pathway of digitisation and innovation for South African companies across various industries,” says Cronje, who expects to see a solid expansion and development of the use of AI in important and meaningful ways in 2021 and beyond:

  1. Greater contribution to science and mathematics – AI will have real-world impact in fighting against climate change, pollution and future viral pandemics and disease. Google’s machine learning company DeepMind’s AI programme, AlphaFold2 successfully determined the 3D shapes of proteins from their amino-acid sequence late last year. This discovery will accelerate efforts of scientists to understand the building blocks of cells and enable quicker and more advanced medicine, research and bioengineering.
  2. Smart tech getting smarter – internet-connected devices will be able to learn from the data they collect. Systems can take actions on the data it monitors such as locking doors, redirecting traffic, reducing in-home air temperatures, and turning off lights.
  3. More emphasis on ethical AI – Netflix’s Social Dilemma brought to light the ethical concerns around the implementation of AI in social media. As AI continues to grow in capability and availability, its ethical implications continue to demand our attention. For example, it is likely that the ethics around deepfake misinformation, race and gender bias,  AI for children, algorithmic bias, data protection and acceptable uses will all be up for necessary discussion in 2021.
  4. Open models with bigger access – as larger companies such as Intel, Amazon Web Services and Google rapidly incorporate AI into their systems, we will see greater democratisation of the AI offerings for public use. This will make digital innovation more accessible for software developers and smaller businesses.

The pandemic accelerated the need for businesses to come up with tech solutions that allow them to have more flexibility and efficiency going into 2021. “With the world becoming more digitally connected than ever before, AI will continue to play a crucial role in sustainable growth and recovery for businesses this year,” ends Cronje.

Edited by Jenna Delport
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