In November 2020, the story of Artificial Intelligence (AI) was one of victories and disappointments. In the midst of election fatigue and stress hopes turned to AI and its potential to solve a multitude of challenges. Often it did in theory, and often it didn’t in practice. Regardless, AI jumped up our rankings as a top conversation in technology in November 2020, ranking #9, up from #11 in October 2020. In comparison to last year, however, it was down in the rankings (#3 in Nov’19), and mention volume fell 14% comparing Nov’19 to Nov’20.
Ultimately the conversations surrounding AI were about recognizing the technology’s strengths and weaknesses as such a young tool. As The Wall Street Journal’s Angus Loten aptly described it in relation to COVID-19, “But even as AI spreads across business sectors, its ability to supercharge efforts to combat the crisis has fallen far below expectations, revealing limits to a nascent technology that’s still finding its legs.” A lot of this conversation centers around lack; lack of data, lack of privacy, and lack of intuition.
In the media a cycle of excitement and disappointment formed. We saw a lot of ground-breaking research hit news, blogs, and social. Like that by Google Health in Thailand, where a deep-learning system was able to identify a diabetic eye disease from images, and Not Co.’s AI-produced NotMilk made of pineapple and cabbage (sold at WholeFoods). On the other hand, we saw some mistakes with Advanced Symbolics Inc.’s AI-based poll predictions, which had Biden taking Florida and winning the electoral vote 372 to 166. Additionally, we saw ed-tech auto-graders fail students whose answers didn’t exactly match the teacher’s answer keys.
Artificial Intelligence was also frequently mentioned with e-commerce, supply chain and internet of things. We saw coverage of AI tools used by retailers Wayfair and Etsy to help build more accurate predictive models for item recommendations based on natural language processing and computer vision. In the food industry, McCormick said that it’s reduced R&D time down by 70% through the use of AI to process new products.
Finally, there were a lot of business headlines as Facebook purchased Kustomer, a startup that uses machine learning to analyze and classify inbound conversations on its customer-service platform, among other capabilities. Snapchat acquired Voca.ai for $70 million and Shutterstock Inc. bought Amper Music, an AI platform for original music creation. Robust AI, the robotic software startup, announced and additional $15 million in funding, totaling $22.5 million in funds raised. Lastly, late in the month C3.ai had a great public offering.