The global spread of Covid-19 has brought sectors such as hospitality and education to their knees while accelerating investments in other areas, like medicine and videoconferencing.
Businesses and governments alike have been making digital investment decisions in days, where before they may have debated for months, often using off-the-shelf solutions and shaping them to fit their needs. It is likely that the need for advancements in digital operations will continue to accelerate in a society that increasingly relies on technology for everything from commerce and shipping to education and healthcare. This means that the time is right for the US government to step forward, rather than back, when it comes to investments in artificial intelligence (AI), and continue to build its position as the global leader in AI.
Although the new administration has not outlined its exact plans for AI spending, President Biden has announced an increase in the amount of federal research and development spending to $300bn over four years. To best help the 10.7 million unemployed Americans (a number nearly twice what it was pre-pandemic), some of that budget would be best spent on AI advancements.
Here are five areas where advancements in AI could make the biggest impact on unemployment:
1. Improved communications
Finding a job is stressful enough without having to navigate layers of government bureaucracy. It’s not uncommon for unemployed people to have their benefits lapse because forms weren’t submitted correctly, or they didn’t realize they had to submit a new one for ongoing support.
AI can ease this burden by enabling citizens to have this conversation at a time and through a digital platform that suits them best like a phone, tablet, laptop, etc. For example, a person can be sent a text requesting missing information and respond when they are free. Small pieces of information can be collected every so often until eventually the unemployment agency has the complete picture. This stops the applicant from becoming overwhelmed by having to fill out an entire form at one time .
These communication improvements can be internal as well, by using programs driven by the power of AI, like Microsoft Teams, to facilitate seamless collaboration between departments. The fact is, if you tell one government department information about yourself, then all others should be able to use it to your benefit, with your consent. Countries like Estonia have a system of ‘cloud government’ where all data is linked and transparent for the user, which enables citizens to interact conveniently and on their terms. In addition, AI-backed methods of communications have proven cost-saving benefits and are essential in freeing up employee time for more rewarding tasks.
2. Better access to better healthcare
The last thing someone who is recently unemployed needs is a five-figure medical bill. While universal/state healthcare is a divisive issue, everyone can agree with the need for individuals to get the right care at the right time.
Where healthcare is expensive or hard to access, such as in rural communities, AI presents a lifeline. By introducing AI systems that can diagnose patients and refer only the patients that need it most to a human specialist, costs are reduced while the quality of care goes up. According to Kevin Scott, Microsoft Chief Technology Officer, biometric sensing and predictive models could also help detect disease earlier.
With coronavirus shining a light on how important robust healthcare services and digital communications are, investing in this area is key to tackling healthcare needs both today and tomorrow.
3. Invest in microelectronics manufacturing
It is likely that part of the Western world’s response to coronavirus will be to begin to safeguard manufacturing by bringing more activity back within their own borders. Shoring up access to the components that enable AI technologies is the first logical step. “At present, the US government does not have trusted access to state-of-the-art microelectronics manufacturing,” states a recent government report by Amazon, Google and Microsoft. It recommends that congress invests $600m in two programs – DARPA’s Electronics Resurgence Initiative and the US Navy’s Trusted and Assured Microelectronics program. This will secure access to necessary semiconductor hardware such as FGPAs, ASIC chips and GPUs.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, investments in infrastructure and climate alongside trade rebalancing could restore 17 million jobs to the US – 70% more than the number of those unemployed. Manufacturing critical microelectronics components at home also reduces reliance on foreign trade during a crisis like we have seen in the past year.
4. Allocating resources
From disaster relief to economic upheaval, when the worst happens the right decisions need to be made quickly. The same can be said for when communities are struggling and local economies are fracturing. By utilizing AI to make suggestions when support is needed, how much to provide and where, technology can radically reduce negative economic impact.
New data from economists Michelle Meyer and Anna Zhou from Bank of America Global Research has revealed that the $900bn round of Covid-19 stimulus checks has already had a huge impact on the economy, with spending on credit and debit cards up by 12.7% year on year, compared to 2.8% for non-recipients, and household spending is up by 22%.
If the recovery from coronavirus is expected to result in localized restrictions, door-to-door vaccines and sector-by-sector recoveries, then economic data must be paired with coronavirus data to ensure that the right amount of economic support is sent to the right places. AI systems can quickly and indicate where confidence in spending is dwindling and recommend solutions faster and more accurately than any human can.
5. Expanding 5G spectrum sharing
Though not specifically an AI technology, 5G is required to maximize the benefits of the majority of AI investments. 5G is the ‘connective tissue’ between AI platforms and is “a critical component of overall leadership in AI”. Simply put, the technologies included here are impossible to implement without 5G, and for that reason it is one of the most important areas of investment for long-term jobs growth.
In November, the House unanimously passed the $750bn Open RAN bill, which has set the ball rolling on 5G. But there is more work to do. With smart, effective investments in AI, the US can consolidate its position as a global leader with a short term focus on supporting the unemployed and getting America back to work, and a long term strategy to make sure that its investments are sustainable for years to come.