3 ways AI is being used for good in the Middle East

An opinion piece by Thierry Nicault, Executive Vice President – Middle East, Africa, and Central Europe, Salesforce

Today, Artificial Intelligence (AI) still feels pretty new, yet in the years ahead, like electricity, it will become part of the fabric of everyday life in the Middle East. It’s already changing our lives for the better, and in many ways you might not expect. If you have a computer, smartphone, or other smart device, you’re using AI. It’s reminding us to follow up on emails, helping us make reservations at restaurants, and making shopping easier on the go.

As the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has evolved over recent months, the application of AI technologies is proving essential in transforming how we live our lives, do business, and how we tackle the virus head-on. At Salesforce, we have always believed in the power to use AI for good, and that encouragement for innovators to develop this new technology must be matched with citizens’ confidence in how it is applied.

We’re used to embedding AI functionality directly into apps used by businesses everyday, saving them time and money, and helping them make smarter decisions. With voice technology, in particular, Salesforce’s development of “two-way bots” means that AI systems of the future won’t just learn the knowledge we teach them, they will also gain the capability to analyze a user’s sentiment and engage in full conversations.

We envision a world in which AI will be democratized for everyone in society, a natural part of human interaction. By baking trust into every step of the AI journey we can ensure it’s safe, inclusive for all, and works for us instead of against us. At Salesforce we’re already doing this, employing AI architects committed to ensuring that our AI products are designed with ethics at their core. Simply put, we see the future of AI as conversational, evolving with purpose and nurtured by values.

Here are three ways that AI is being used for good – to tackle the spread of the coronavirus and better protect communities now and long into the future.

1. Speeding up discovery and development of drugs

Drug discovery for rare diseases, a traditionally slow process, has proved much easier, faster and likelier to succeed with the assistance of AI systems. Beyond helping us to understand the coronavirus, how it can be managed and its effects can be contained, algorithms and machine learning are speeding up the development of the design and re-purposing of drugs as well as the planning of clinical trials.

As medical researchers seek a treatment for the coronavirus, AI systems are being applied to study mounting literature relating to the virus to highlight commonalities and differences and spot things scientists may have missed, consider the suitability of drugs, and propose a list of drug candidates for clinical trials. What’s more, it’s estimated that using AI to generate new medicines cuts the early-stage drug development cost by nearly a third.

2. Making technology accessible to everyone, and keeping us connected

AI, developed and applied correctly, can be a great equalizer. Easy-to-use and easy-to-understand voice-enabled platforms are helping to ease daily interactions with technology during this pandemic, particularly for older people and for those who are not tech-savvy, or literate. The device is always there, ready to listen and answer questions. Language translation capabilities also allow AI technologies to translate audio into different languages, and into text, helping those who are deaf or experiencing hearing loss.

AI is not only helping companies to stay connected with customers during the public health crisis, it’s also ensuring their safety. As the need for AI-powered contact center messaging has risen, for instance, AI agents are helping businesses to solve customer problems while facilitating ‘social distancing’ among their workforce. Businesses are also using Salesforce’s Einstein Voice technology to make everyday business transactions, like logging meeting notes or updating data in CRM systems, as seamless as possible.

Last year, only months before the onset of the global health crisis, research from Salesforce showed that already 75% of business buyers considered emerging technologies such as chatbots and voice assistants are changing their expectations of companies. In future, we can expect voice technology to be an integral part of apps that companies offer, making it easier for customers of all backgrounds to use in any situation, re-framing the way we engage with technology.

3. Creating a more efficient and resilient health service

Health providers are also utilizing AI systems to help predict demand for intensive care beds and ventilators – something which has the potential to revolutionize how our health systems operate today and long into the future.

Using machine learning, during the pandemic a number of hospitals in England’s National Health Service (NHS) have trialled a new predictive system which will provide statistics, forecasts and simulation environments to the health provider, helping the service to more effectively plan the deployment of resources and whether to share to capacity with neighboring hospitals.

Beyond coronavirus-related cases, AI solutions are helping hospitals to streamline decisions around how they assign beds to patients and which patients are ready to leave hospital and who should stay. Where previously medical professionals had to rely on tedious tasks such as phone calls and paper lists, and managers had to guess days in advance whether to discharge patients, AI is helping health provides to score patterns on patients’ individual vital signs. Checking blood pressure and heart rate, for instance, health professional make be able to make smarter decisions faster whilst reducing risks.


How we use AI for good

Each of these examples shows how AI is being used for good as we work to tackle the coronavirus and its impact on communities. They also show how crucially important it is that technology evolves with purpose, is provided – effectively trained – with correct data, and is nurtured with values.

As health providers increasingly come to rely on AI systems during this pandemic and into the future, and governments across the globe consider ways to mitigate the risks of new technologies, it’s imperative that the Middle East’s public sector and businesses work together to ensure a values-driven approach to the design and use of AI.