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Innovation

Artificial intelligence: 5 innovative applications that could change everything

In a new report, McKinsey identifies innovative ways industries can benefit from applying AI. Some may surprise you.
Written by Sabrina Ortiz, Associate Editor on
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Image: Shutterstock

Artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming how businesses across many different industries operate. By adopting AI, businesses can automate activities, producing more efficient and effective results. The McKinsey Technology Trends Outlook 2022 report took an in-depth look at AI and its many applications – which reach far beyond the tech industry. Here's a look at a few major sectors where AI will have important impacts.

1. Agriculture

AI has the potential to optimize the agricultural sector by enabling precision agriculture and automating some functions. Precision agriculture refers to the tailoring of crop inputs to the precise needs of the farm. AI and ML make this possible by collecting data and identifying patterns that help farmers best understand what needs to be implemented and how much. "Think about using data to find patterns that enable precision. For example, providing just the right amount of fertilizer to the right place in the field at the right time, which then optimizes both the cost for the farmer, but also the yield on the other side," Roger Roberts, McKinsey expert partner, tells ZDNet.  

SEE: Self-driving robots key to future of our food

Some equipment normally operated by farmers can be automated; for example, farms can leverage driverless tractors. Automating some tasks gives farmers the ability to redirect their attention to more important tasks, while the work still gets done efficiently. AI is not a replacement for farmers, but rather a supportive tool.

"Sometimes AI can replace tasks, but not jobs. And sometimes the task was the part of the job that was more drudgery," Roberts says. "It can be unburdening people in particular jobs, to let them focus on the part of the job that matters most."

2. Education 

The education sector in recent years has already drastically transformed, as the pandemic and the shift to remote learning compelled students and educators to embrace new technologies. Still, there's room for AI to help improve how students learn and the education they receive. School curriculums are generally pretty rigid and don't take into account students' individual learning needs. Through the implementation of AI, students can have more individualized learning plans based on the students' own learning needs and progress. 

"When you start to look at where individualized students are, just as you can with personalized medicine by looking at your own health history, as opposed to looking just at a population of people, you can then begin to really bring a more tailored pace and path of learning for different subjects to that student," Roberts says.

3. Healthcare

Healthcare systems could benefit from automated pathology recognition and the application of data to inform diagnoses. It's unlikely patients will ever want to replace their doctors' attention and expertise with automated processes, but AI in the health sector is an example of how new technology can support current processes, instead of supplanting them. Physicians and trained professionals will still be needed to interpret the data and the diagnosis: AI will simply help healthcare professionals fulfill their roles more efficiently. 

"What's exciting to me is not replacing human labor, but really in the health care area giving our health professionals superpowers," Roberts says. "Think about all the data that you could aggregate and bring to the provider, not as a replacement for their answer, but as a suggestion. Then it's up to the professional to take that into their own practice." 

4. Retail and packaged goods

Artificial intelligence can help retail and packaged goods industries understand consumer patterns to adjust their supply and maximize profit. Machine learning (ML) can help businesses understand purchasing data by analyzing huge sets of data, discerning patterns, and giving shoppers customized recommendations.

SEE: Paper catalogues to data catalogues: How digital transformation has changed everything about retail

By understanding the data, businesses can keep their shelves stocked with what people want, allowing them to make more sales and consumers to have their needs met. When a product is out of stock, it is both a loss for the retailer and the consumer, Roberts notes.

"One thing that helps both the retailer and the consumer goods company is by making sure we've got the right products on the right shelf at the right time. So that when you go to the store, what you're looking for is there," he says.

5. Real estate 

Real estate agents, buyers and sellers can all benefit from automated property recommendations. This will help buyers find their perfect property, which in turn helps sellers find the most interested buyers, efficiently speeding up the process. The report also said AI can help perform market analyses to help developers manage risk and price volatility, as well as optimize their return on investment. 

SEE: Can AI serve as a 'great equalizer' in the real estate industry?

Anywhere, an American real estate services company that owns major brands in the industry such as CENTURY 21, Coldwell Banker and Sotheby's International Realty, has implemented AI to optimize their business.

"AI is used for recruiting efforts by predicting agents that will achieve the highest future growth over a multi-year span. This helps brokerages focus their resources on growth potential instead of competing with everybody else over the same pool of agents," Damian Ng, senior vice president of technology at Anywhere, tells ZDNET.

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