This interview with The Unbelievable Machine* CEO about the role of AI in the coronavirus crisis was first published on their website.
iBusiness: Has the pandemic already had an impact on the AI project business both in the short and long term?
Ravin Mehta: Not in the short term, since the situation is still rather new. At the moment nobody is in panic mode and stops ad-hoc projects. As far as we can see, those responsible are acting calmly.
In the long term, it has not yet been defined what the economic impact will be. Of course there are sectors that are directly and immediately affected – aviation and tourism, for example – but this does not affect the whole economy. Not yet. But the cut will most probably come.
The strategic effect is different, because we can draw on past experience here: The last recession, in 2008, raised the same question. At that time, companies made massive cost savings in their traditional business, while at the same time investing similarly massively in future issues. And the future topic for 2020 most definitely is AI.
Are customers now putting off orders or, on the contrary, are they investing budgets that have been freed up?
In our field of digital and infrastructure issues, it is almost “business as usual”. So far, nobody has come forward, neither to invest more nor to stop projects. However, we are still in the phase in which everyone is praying that it will pass quickly.
On the subject of new applications: Is AI making a contribution as an exciting tool for mass data evaluation?
If there is one thing AI is good at, it is mathematically calculating probabilities. Its core task and competence is to recognize patterns in historical data and thus make predictions for the future. In this respect, this is the great moment for AI.
Does AI come into play specifically in the pandemic, for example by analyzing ways of spreading?
Definitely, yes. At the moment, research and development in particular is in full swing. Not or not yet visible to the public.
For example, Google or “Alphabet” is supporting a project of international biotech companies and universities in which two billion potential active substances against COVID-19 are being screened using AI. To this end they have released the unlimited computing power of the Google cloud. Without AI, it would simply be impossible to simulate such a quantity.
The same is true in Germany, where the Fraunhofer Institute, for example, is working on an app that will reconstruct infection chains anonymously and digitally without recording their location. This too will not be possible without AI.
But we are not yet at the point of real results. I couldn’t say who is already working with it.
Can AI in marketing/commerce and other commercial contexts help to deal with the crisis and derive insights for business models?
The corona virus is currently also infecting companies and industries, if you like. Thus, digital business is proving to be more important than ever. Those who have digitalized their processes and infrastructures accordingly are more flexible and remain capable of acting.
AI can of course be an important factor here. For example, if you want to analyze and evaluate data quickly and on a large scale in order to derive findings and react quickly to market changes or similar. But AI alone is not the magic cure. Without the right data and the right handling, even the best AI will not achieve the desired results.
Will Corona have long-term effects on the adaptation and development of AI – are start-ups suddenly emerging?
We are currently seeing that the connections and data volumes caused by the crisis can no longer be handled manually and with human skills alone. All signs point to massive investment in the future topic of AI in and especially after this crisis. The majority of the venture capital for the next few years will definitely be invested in this area.
Does this mean that we will be so busy getting the essentials done that time and budgets for further development will be scarce for the time being?
Both. Clearly, in a crisis it’s all about keeping the business going. But it would be fatal to limit yourself to that. After all, there is an “after”, and the goal should be to emerge from the crisis stronger.
Of course, we don’t know where we are going yet. Companies and service providers must therefore take the time right now to think through and plan all scenarios in order to be and remain in the best position possible.
Ravin Mehta is the founder and managing director of The unbelievable Machine Company and a director of the Basefarm Group, an Orange Business company.
*UM is a subsidiary of the Orange Group.
Editor in Chief, International, at Orange Business. I'm in charge of our International website and the English language blogs at Orange Business. In my spare time I'm literally captain of my own ship, spending my time on the wonderful rivers and canals of England.