From drones delivering medication to rural clinics to smart sensors helping farmers save water, here are the ways artificial intelligence is effecting positive change in the world

Throughout time, depictions of Artificial Intelligence have inspired mixed feelings, driving us to wonder if we truly want intelligent systems in our lives. An evil swarm of robot soldiers set out to destroy humanity (“SKYNET” from Terminator): BAD. A robot that takes care of all of our household needs (“Rosie” from the Jetsons): GOOD. Waking up after getting married only to find out your better half is a robot (“Fembots” from Austin Powers): BAD. A genius sidekick to help your fleet at all times (“Data” from Star Trek): GOOD. The systems we have created in our imagined world showcase our love-hate relationship with the concept of intelligent machines.

But what once existed only in fantasies is quickly being catapulted into the vanguard of our very existence — from unprecedented disaster response and major revolutions in agriculture, to drastic increases in the accessibility of healthcare and mobility. Due to the advent of cloud computing tools, higher performance processing and sensor proliferation, AI has become more affordable and accessible than ever before. Simply put, AI is a system’s ability to interpret data, learn from it, and then use its knowledge to perform certain tasks. Here are five AI trends changing humanity for the better. 

1. Agriculture 

Agriculture is an industry tasked with ensuring food security while simultaneously plagued by crop diseases and pests, unpredictable weather patterns, and the constraints of resources. As the data available to farmers becomes both richer and more robust, it is clear that large scale adoption of AI in agriculture is on the horizon. Companies like Taranis are making it possible for farmers to have access to sub-millimeter crop imagery that is so detailed they can detect and react to threats like diseases and parasites before they occur, tackling food security in the process. AI is also helping farmers glean unprecedented insights into their soil. CropX, for example, uses a vast array of smart sensors to analyze soil, providing each crop with the exact amount of water needed until the next round of irrigation. This predictive technology helps to eradicate unnecessary waste of scarce resources. AI also helps alleviate one of the major challenges of modern agriculture – the shortage of fruit picking labor. Tevel Aerobotics is developing a fleet of cost effective autonomous flying robots for fruit picking, thinning, and pruning. The company aims to transform traditional manual fruit picking into a state of the art autonomous process for enhancing farmers’ productivity. 

2. Healthcare 

In the medical field, the promise of AI and robotics has been unleashed from the realms of science fiction into the lives of the disabled, who have experienced what can only be described as a paradigm shift in the treatments they receive. While images are one of the largest sources of data in healthcare, they are also one of the most difficult sources to analyze accurately. This analysis has relied on the trained human eye and resulted in misdiagnoses and slow processing times of threatening diseases. The rise of AI in medical imaging is changing that process. Companies like Zebra Medical Vision allow radiologists to have the extraordinary ability to receive digital assistance for the detection of various medical issues including diseases of the bone, liver, lung, and cardiovascular system. Thanks to deep learning algorithms, it is now possible to differentiate between cancerous and non- cancerous cells much more accurately. This technology can lead to the automated diagnosis of diseases in places that were completely lacking access to properly trained and qualified medical professionals in the past. MedAware uses AI and Big Data to eliminate prescription errors, as medical errors are estimated to cause the death of more than 200,000 patients in the US per year. Patients with diabetes can count on DreaMed for its machine- learning solution for diabetes management, facilitating daily management and patient-doctor communication. AI has been changing the medical landscape in areas with limited access to healthcare as well. Rural clinics in Rwanda, a country that can have washed out roads and impassable mountains, often do not have access to vital medical supplies in time to save the lives of patients that could otherwise have been easily treated. With the advent of AI and computer vision, Silicon Valley based startup Zipline guides autonomous winged drones carrying critical medical items like blood and vaccines to rural hospitals that order via text. 

3. Autonomous Vehicles 

Driven by immense advancements in AI, the advent of autonomous vehicles will offer a new form of mobility to those who were previously restrained from driving. Their arrival will not just improve lives, but will save them too. As they begin to occupy our roads, they will make them safer for passengers and pedestrians by fusing real-time and surrounding data with an always alert, automated, split-second decision-making mechanism that cannot be inebriated, distracted, or exhausted. Companies like Brodmann17 are creating technologies that provide autonomous vehicles with the ability to understand their surroundings. As vehicles become capable of visually recognizing objects more quickly, they will need to be looped into imperative life- or-death decision-making in real-time, without access to the internet. By rapidly detecting surrounding objects and recognizing faces, the autonomous vehicle’s logic will have to calculate difficult philosophical decisions. In an accident, whose safety is prioritized? The passenger, the civilian, the elected politician, the disease-combating scientist, the children? Not only will autonomous vehicles be able to see what is happening around them, AI will assist them in fusing all the data they gather from different sensors to provide a full environmental model of the driving scenario — essentially replicating the situational awareness function of a brain. 

4. Industrial Sector 

Countless solutions have brought major progress to industrial markets with increased automation and decreased skilled labor. Still, the rapid detection of hazards, defects, mistakes, and damaged equipment on industrial sites remains expensive and requires trained personnel. The adoption of AI-based solutions in industrial facilities has the ability to revolutionize the industry the way automation has in the past. Much like the tech found in autonomous vehicles, drones have been programmed by innovative startups like Airobotics to monitor pipelines for leaks at industrial sites across the globe — protecting projects and the environment along the way. These solutions further provide industrial facilities with vast aerial data while delivering insights to support operations across the site. In many cases industrial solutions are extending insights beyond direct project or product outcomes and providing information regarding human resources as well. For example, there are startups using AI to analyze photos fed to them from job worksites to detect whether workers are wearing the correct safety equipment. Others ensure only qualified professionals are performing dangerous tasks to mitigate risk on projects and accountability concerns. 

5. Cybersecurity 

Crucially, industrial sites are further leveraging the immense benefits of AI as a key weapon in the fight against cyber criminals. The vast onslaught of attacks happening over networks today continue to put businesses, their infrastructure, and consumers at risk. As attacks become more sophisticated protection is growing into a massive challenge and manually fending off attacks is no longer possible. AI is being leveraged in the monitoring of IT networks as well as industrial networks and automobiles for attacks derived from malware, insider threats, critical vulnerabilities, etc. This kind of extended ability enables organizations to protect themselves from the usual damage as well as to prevent costly production outages, catastrophic safety and environmental failures and the theft of corporate intellectual property. 

In addition to enterprise and large industry protection, AI is being used to protect individual consumers as well. For example, BioCatch has developed a way to authenticate online users based on their unique behavior by analyzing a wide variety of indicators to determine you are who you say you are and catch imposters. Artificial Intelligence is swiftly penetrating all aspects of our existence and demonstrating its vast potential to improve our world. With applications extending far beyond use cases possible by digital assistants such as Siri, Cortana, and Google Assistant and into even more advanced assistants like Intuition Robotics’ ElliQ, it is clear that AI is poised to make an immense impact on life as we know it. Despite our love-hate relationship with intelligent machines, it is clear that this technology can be used for good and tackle major challenges like food scarcity while saving lives and providing protection. 

This is an excerpt from OurCrowd’s Q1 Innovation Insider. Download it here.

About the Authors

Sian Goldofsky, Senior Analyst, Cyber & AI Lead, OurCrowd

Saul Levin, Research Analyst, OurCrowd