COVID-19 Accelerated Changes: Automation, Machine Learning & Artificial Intelligence by Fadi Maktabi

By Fadi Maktabi, Managing Director, Hearts & Science UAE.

As COVID-19 forces the globe to a partial standstill, everything seems like it has frozen in time. Streets are empty, schools closed, offices buildings abandoned; but there is one thing that is moving faster than we could have ever anticipated. I’m not talking about the surge in e-commerce purchases or the increase in streaming service consumption; I’m talking about all those cool “futuristic” concepts.

There are 5 big themes that I believe COVID-19 will accelerate at unprecedented levels; those are: Digital Currency & Blockchain, Automation, Machine Learning & Artificial Intelligence, Cloud Computing & Cybersecurity, Fluid Talent Management and finally the real application of the Internet of Things.

Heres the article written on Digital Currency & Blockchain.

Automation, Machine Learning & Artificial Intelligence

With all that’s going on with COVID-19, there have been other looming threats to jobs that were heavily discussed before our current situation and those are: Automation, Machine Learning (ML) & Artificial Intelligence (AI).

I have always been of the thinking that technology works as an enabler to human development, and in theory Automation, AI & ML should be taken in the same light. Yet the speed at which these technologies have already been adopted and the expectation from the impact of COVID-19 to accelerate them might end up creating greater job losses in the short run than previously estimated. Corporations today are looking for various avenues to cut costs to survive the economic pressure from this pandemic, and one of these cost savings avenues is starting to show its effect through automation. Although it may have a heavier setup costs at the beginning, applying automation can save companies huge amounts of money in the medium to long term.

Once companies start investing in automation (making repetitive tasks automatic; such as data entry & supply chain manufacturing) they will begin their journey and capability to develop their own machine learning algorithms (with access to the newly automated data/information, algorithms can be developed to help them make better and faster decisions based on that algorithms capability to learn) and ultimately have their own applicable artificial intelligence (these systems/machine will eventually be able to process so much information and make the decisions on behalf of the corporation to achieve the desired results).

There are many cases around where these technologies are being applied to fight COVID-19, lets look at 3 examples that showcase the capabilities:

  1. Current COVID-19 Situation solved by Automation: A software company and a hospital in Dublin launched a project called “a robot for every nurse”. Nurses today spend 2-4 hours a week inputting laboratory information into the hospital systems, the project was launched to develop a bot that could log this information for the nurses in a fraction of the time. This is extremely helpful as testing increases and announcing results quickly becomes important to help reduce the spread.
  2. Current COVID-19 Situation solved by Machine Learning: At the beginning of this pandemic many governments, health ministries and hospitals started running models to predict the speed and growth of the pandemic using previous pandemic data. As more data on COVID-19 became available, MIT went ahead and developed a machine learning model using COVID-19 data combining it with a neural network to determine the spread and the lockdown measures at a much more accurate and real time level.
  3. Current COVID-19 Situation solved by Artificial Intelligence: The beauty of AI is its ability to crunch exorbitant amount of data at incredible speed. And that is something that is highly needed as doctors and researchers work tirelessly to find a treatment. BenevolentAI, a London based drug discovery company created an AI and tasked it with reading all available research around viruses and the drugs used to treat them, hence speeding the process to find properties in drugs that may help reduce the spread.

As these technologies area applied more and more to help fight COVID-19, expect these technologies to make even greater and faster leaps when it comes to government & corporate usage, the impact it will have on people and even greater adoption in marketing:

Government & Corporations:

The speed at which government procedures and paperwork will be done will be unprecedented. As more and more citizen and resident data is collected, stored and automated; governments will be able to both track and service their people better. In the UAE the application of AI isn’t as far as most people may think, just look at how it is currently being used to decide whether or not to issue fines to citizens/residents during the COVID-19 lockdown (https://gulfnews.com/uae/covid-19-precaution-dubai-police-using-ai-to-find-out-if-your-trip-was-essential-1.70829268). This can go as far as mirroring the popular movie Minority Report in predicting criminal activity based on collected automated data collection where habits of criminals are then learnt by a computer and then artificial intelligence is applied to issue predictions.

The application won’t stop here. As corporation deal more with the threat of COVID-19 the adoption will skyrocket as themes such as cashless and contactless continue to be a focal point. Expect massive change in the retail space as they adapt to this with solutions such as Kiosks where you will be able to use screens to view, review and purchase; basic robotic usage in product replenishment in supermarkets/grocery stores; all the way down to dining tables with integrated ordering screens to reduce the need for human contact. The implications of this will be massive on the required jobs to run these outlets in the long run.


The impact of these technologies will be massive on people. It will be both a benefit when it comes to the products and services we expect, yet a curse if you are not able to adapt your skillsets to match the accelerated change.

The benefits are countless. Most people already see the initially benefits of ML & AI through the recommendation algorithms of their favorite platforms/apps. We are all constantly in conversations with these algorithms through the music we listen to (just look at how Spotify’s algorithm know what track/genre to recommend to you), the videos we watch (both Netflix and YouTube are great examples here with the continue content recommendations) and the king of them all the recommended products we all order continuously from Amazon/Noon (Yes, I too have bought items I never thought I wanted/needed based on their recommendation algorithms).

The expectation of these technologies moving forward will be even greater personalized experiences, faster deliveries, more timely replenishment of products, more accurate health diagnosis, and many more…

Expect many more jobs to be replaced by “machines”; and we are seeing COVID-19 accelerate this faster than people have the time to upgrade their skillsets. As companies restructure and downsize due to this pandemic, their expansion and growth moving forward will be through these technologies and those that take this time to upskill and reskill will come out stronger than ever when things come back to the “new” normal.



One of the interesting things about working in marketing is the continuous change when it comes to the landscape. It wasn’t too long ago when digital & social media came in and changed how we  market, followed quickly by an algorithm rich subscription world that required a much more integrated and intricate approach and the expectation is for the ML/AI world to follow even faster.

The expectations will be marketers to adapt and evolve meshing roles such as marketing, e-commerce and technology to ultimately offer consumers better products, services and communication. Better products and detailed on customer feedback are collected and evaluated in real-time for further development; enhanced  services when it comes to the personalization of webpages to cater to that customers predicted needs and finally more accurate communication as agencies evolve their offering and develop bespoke AI for clients to apply on communication channels/platforms.

As this pandemic drags longer and longer, the expectation is that the world will look different when we get out of it. The current adoption and application of automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence to combat COVID-19 will increase the knowledge base of these technologies and the expectations for them to be applied to all other industries. This will by no means be a flip of a switch, but what we expect to happen in 5-10 years will not happen in 2-3 years. Would love to hear your thoughts on this.