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COVID-19 is already having a disruptive influence on our economy. The changes we’ve seen in a few short months have been profound. Business is being forced to become more mobile and to embrace digital technology – quickly. While concerns about the impact of new technology will remain, and companies must ensure they do not create unforeseen risks, the pull of the new has just become a whole lot stronger…

In the middle of December, an AI system detected a clutch of unusual pneumonia cases centred around a wet food market in the city of Wuhan. Nine days later the World Health Organization alerted the world to a dangerous novel form of Coronavirus; in the new year it had a name: COVID-19.

AI had already proved itself to be valuable in the fight against COVID-19 – and it could be critical as the financial sector seeks to recover.

The system, BlueDot, was designed precisely for this kind of situation. It was originally inspired by the outbreak of SARS in 2003 which killed nearly 800 people around the world and cost the world economy $40bn. As its founder, Kamran Khan said:

“What I learned during SARS is, let’s not get caught flatfooted, let’s anticipate rather than react.”

Kamran Khan – Founder, Bluedot

BlueDot relies on big data to anticipate and conceptualise the spread of infectious diseases. It uses data from public health organisations, digital media, global airline ticketing systems and various other sources to predict how quickly a disease might spread, and where hot spots might occur. Using this data, for example, they were able to predict which cities had the highest connectivity to Wuhan and which would experience the first cases.

The system could have been used to help inform governments about their responses, and also give companies advanced information on how COVID-19 was likely to spread. This would have assisted them to make preparations in advance.

Time for AI

Already, financial institutions have been using artificial intelligence across operations from customer service and algorithmic trading to cyber security and much more. All these applications have potential benefits in helping the world to cope with a “COVID-19 economy”.

Chat bots and AI call assistants might spring to mind, but they represent only the thin end of the wedge. They can answer most simple questions, improve response times for callers and take the load off call centres. S-Bank, for example, has managed to automate 70% of all calls without intervention from a customer services representative.

But what about the more involved applications of artificial intelligence that most haven’t even considered where lies immense value?

Take, for example, the vast swathes of information currently being published around this pandemic and the numerous regulatory updates coming out from the regulatory bodies. It’s impossible to assimilate it all and apply it without working 24/7. Even then, it wouldn’t be doable. With the application of AI in this instance however, it is possible to intelligently “cherry pick” the pertinent information, successfully discerning it from the irrelevant data and being able to access it in an easily digestible format. Not only does this save time but adds enormous value to clients of all types of businesses and within a range of sectors.

But that’s still just scraping the surface of AI’s capabilities in these use cases.

Financial institutions may also turn to AI to safeguard their businesses during uncertain times. As recent Office for Budget Responsibility figures show, the impact of the lockdown could be unlike anything we’ve seen since the Great Depression. Stock markets have gone into meltdown and even the most experienced analyst will struggle to accurately predict what’s going to happen to the economy or to the markets over the next year.

Businesses in all sectors will need to be much more aware of opportunities and AI systems are likely to prove helpful to them. Investors will be able to identify emerging trends earlier, companies will be able to take appropriate positions and thereby be enabled to take a more central role in everything from financial management to cyber security, keeping systems ticking over and alerting management to potential problems a lot earlier.

Regulatory Hurdles

But what about the regulatory hurdles? Given this extremely uncertain time, it has never been more difficult to stay up to date with all the regulatory changes and the new information constantly being released. A week now feels like a year in “normal” times. On the one hand, artificial intelligence can expedite reporting requirements and make it easier for firms to demonstrate compliance, but on the other, less human involvement could potentially reduce oversight and may make it more difficult for firms to ensure the “robots” are behaving appropriately.

Well actually, no.

With the pressures of lockdown and the speed in which the pandemic overtook our world, demand for more advanced solutions has grown significantly and pressure is being placed on regulators to develop frameworks that facilitate the sustainable and safe growth of AI solutions.

This is where AI-as-a-Service comes in and can benefit these businesses. From uncovering connections and patterns in vast, unstructured datasets to improving the way that new regulations are introduced in the future. These, along with insightful analysis are just some of the ways that advanced artificial intelligence solutions are helping businesses to navigate these troubled times.


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