10 surprising things that rely on artificial intelligence

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Douglas Broom, Senior Writer, Formative Content


  • Artificial intelligence (AI) played a key role in developing COVID-19 vaccines.
  • But you may not realize how many day-to-day things rely on it.
  • From filtering out spam emails to helping trains run on time, AI is all around us.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has transformed many aspects of our lives for the better. It even played a role in developing vaccines against COVID-19. But you may be surprised just how many things we take for granted that rely on AI.

As IBM explain, “at its simplest form, artificial intelligence is a field, which combines computer science and robust datasets to enable problem-solving.” It includes the sub-fields of machine learning and deep learning. These two fields use algorithms that are designed to make predictions or classifications based on input data.

a diagram showing the various applications for ai
This is how AI is used in our everyday lives. Image: European Parliament

Of course, as technology becomes more sophisticated, literally millions of decisions need to be made every day and AI speeds things up and takes the burden off humans. The World Economic Forum describes AI as a key driver of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

a chart showing forecasted shipments of edge AI Chips
Forecasted shipments of edge artificial intelligence (AI) chips worldwide in 2020 and 2024, by device. Image: Statista

The Forum’s platform, Shaping the Future of Technology Governance: Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, is bringing together key stakeholders to design and test policy frameworks that accelerate the benefits and mitigate the risks of AI and machine learning.

Here are 10 examples of AI we encounter every day.

1. Emails

Your email provider almost certainly uses AI algorithms to filter mail into your spam folder. Quite helpful when you consider that 77% of global email traffic is spam. Google says less than 0.1% of spam makes it past its AI-powered filters.

Email marketers use AI to track who opens mail when, and how they respond. Google’s AI tools read documents in Cloud storage in order to present the most relevant material to users.

But there are concerns that algorithms that read content to target advertising are invading our privacy.

2. Phones

AI automates a host of functions on your smartphone, from predictive text that learns the words you commonly use to voice-activated personal assistants which listen to the world around them and try to learn your keywords.

The way your phone screen adjusts to ambient light or the battery life is optimized is also down to AI. But if the personal assistant absorbs everything you say, whether you’re on the phone or not, some critics say it creates opportunities for surveillance, however benign the intention.

3. Banking

In many parts of the world, online and app-based banking are the norm. From onboarding new customers and checking their identity to countering fraud and money laundering, AI is in charge. Want a loan? An AI-powered system will assess your creditworthiness and decide.

AI also monitors transactions and AI chatbots can answer questions about your account. More than two-thirds of banks in a recent survey by SAS Institute say they use AI chatbots and almost 63% said they used AI for fraud detection.

4. Medicine

Going for an x-ray? Forget the idea of a clinician in a white coat studying the results. The initial analysis is most likely to be done by an AI algorithm. In fact they turn out to be rather good at diagnosing problems.

In a trial, an AI algorithm called DLAD beat 17 out of a panel of 18 doctors in detecting potential cancers in chest x-rays.

However, critics say AI diagnosis must not become an impenetrable “black box”. Doctors need to know how they work in order to trust them. Issues around privacy, data protection and fairness have also been raised.

As in banking, chatbots are also being deployed in healthcare to engage with patients – for example, to book an appointment – or even as virtual assistants to physicians. This presents numerous issues though, from miscommunication to wrong diagnoses.

The World Economic Forum’s Chatbots RESET programme brings together stakeholders from multiple areas to explore these opportunities and challenges to govern the use of chatbots.

5. Automated cars

AI is at the heart of the drive towards autonomous vehicles, adoption of which has accelerated due to the pandemic. Delivery services are one area being targeted, while China now has a ‘robotaxi’ fleet operating in Shanghai.

There are still safety issues to be ironed out, however. There have been accidents involving self-driving cars, some of them fatal.

a chart showing which countries are best prepared from autonomous cars
The Netherlands is the best prepared for autonomous cars. Image: Statista

6. Trains and planes

Conventional trackside railway signals are being replaced by AI-powered in-cab signalling systems which automatically control trains. The European Train Control System allows more trains to use the same stretch of track while maintaining safe distances between them.

To date, the use of AI in controlling aircraft has been limited to drones, although flying taxis that use AI to navigate have already been flight-tested. Experts say a human is still better at flying an airliner but AI is widely used in route planning, optimizing schedules and managing bookings.

7. Ride sharing and travel apps

Ride sharing apps use AI to resolve the conflicting needs of drivers and passengers. The latter want a ride immediately, while drivers value their freedom to start and stop working when they choose. Learning how these patterns interact, AI can send you a ride when you ask for it.

Travel apps use AI to personalize what they offer users as algorithms learn our preferences. Hotel search engine Trivago even bought an AI platform that customizes search results based on the user’s social media likes.

8. Social media

Uncanny how social media seems to know what you like, isn’t it? Of course, it’s all down to AI. Facebook’s machine learning can recognize your face in pictures posted on the platform, as well as everyday objects to target content and advertising that interests and engages you.

Job seekers using LinkedIn benefit from AI which analyzes their profile and engagement with other users to offer job recommendations. The platform says AI is “woven into the fabric of everything that we do”.

9. Manufacturing

Unexpected breakdowns are every factory manager’s nightmare. So AI is playing a key role in monitoring machine performance, enabling maintenance to be planned rather than reactive. Experts say it’s cutting the time machines are offline by 75% and repair costs by almost a third.

AI can also predict changes in demand for products, optimizing production capacity. AI is currently used in about 9% of factories worldwide but Deloitte says 93% of companies believe AI will be a pivotal technology to drive growth and innovation in the sector.

a picture of a wind farm
Google says AI can enhance the value of wind power by 20%. Image: Pixabay/enriquelopezgarre

10. Regulating power supply

Wind and solar power may be green but what happens when the wind doesn’t blow and the sky is cloudy? AI-powered smart technology can balance supply and demand, controlling devices like water heaters to ensure they only draw power when demand is low and supply plentiful.

Google’s DeepMind created an AI neural network trained using weather forecasts and turbine data to predict the output from a wind farm 36 hours ahead. By making output to the power grid more predictable, Google says it increased the value of its wind energy by 20%.

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