The world is undergoing a profound digital disruption in which Artificial Intelligence (AI) is leading the way. An increasing number of companies are beginning to incorporate such technology into their production processes, logistics or customer services, for a broader use of data or the integration of systems.
But are we moving forward as quickly as we could? What would the economic benefits for Latin America be if this technology were adopted at a faster rate? What challenges would arise in a scenario involving a more rapid adoption of technology?
These and other questions were addressed in the study entitled “Artificial Intelligence and Economic Growth: Opportunities and Challenges for Latin America,” by the Center for the Implementation of Public Policies for Growth and Equity (CIPPEC), commissioned by Microsoft Latin America.
The study looked at the six largest economies in the region in making growth projections. The report presented during the Microsoft “AI+Tour,” concluded that if the region were to adopt and expand IA more intensively than it adopted ITCs in the ‘90s, it could accelerate growth by more than one percentage point, to a GDP of about 4.3 percent.
The study also included less optimistic scenarios for the region: a “negative” scenario reflecting a slowdown with respect to the historical rate of technology adoption, which would lead to a deceleration of Latin American growth (2.1 percent.) And a “neutral” or “status quo” scenario, which assumes that the regional economy will maintain the same rate of technology adoption as it had in the ‘90s; in which case the growth projection would remain at 3.2 percent.
AI in companies in the Caribbean, P.R.
The CIPPEC report notes that AI, like other technologies that revolutionized the economy in the past, is spread throughout nearly all of its sectors.
“We are seeing broad interest in this technology from various sectors as a solution for their systems integration, better data use and customer service,” said Herbert Lewy, Microsoft’s general manager for the Caribbean
Some of the AI applications are making significant advances in areas such as treating children on the autism spectrum, as special education teacher Bryan Rivera explained. Using face identification programs, Rivera has managed to teach children in the classroom to recognize emotions, what they mean and how to handle them.
By applying what they learned, students began to enact the emotional intelligence knowledge they learned to influence others with their behavior. One of the emblematic cases is that of a student who, at the age of 13, hugged his mother for the first time by recognizing the facial expression of happiness and reacting accordingly.
“AI is talked about as a business opportunity, but it is also an opportunity for education. Through this technology we are giving people quality of life, and for me that is very important,” Rivera said.
AI is also present in the research and development activities carried out by the Puerto Rico Science, Technology & Research Trust. Through the AI applied in its Puerto Rico Vector Control Unit program, whose objective is to reduce the population of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, they are automating the identification and classification of mosquitoes by means of image recognition.
In a one-year period they identified 325,000 female mosquitoes that were caught in traps placed around the island. This finding helps in the creation of a database to automate the identification of mosquitoes.
Trust CEO Lucy Crespo said this activity was once carried out manually but can now be resolved in a fraction of the time, allowing researchers to scale their work to prevent Zika, Chikungunya and Dengue outbreaks on the island.
In the corporate realm, the experiences of companies in the financial and retail sectors were discussed, including the case of Banco Popular de Puerto Rico, which wanted to become more agile to maintain its market leadership.
Banco Popular uses AI to automate operational processes that are normally carried out manually, rendering them repetitive and tedious. AI lets workers focus on a more strategic role within the company.
“We currently have eight bots in production assigned to carry out these processes. In the pilot phase of automation, this process previously required 20 people working approximately 18,000 hours each year; with automation we brought this down to a total of 48 hours,” said Luis Benítez, Popular’s vp of Digital Workplace.
For its part, Supermercados Econo uses AI to obtain information that is useful in establishing operational strategic plans, for example, creating algorithms to optimize the prices of products and inventories in their stores, including seasonal merchandise.
Plus, the company uses Microsoft Azure to store the information it obtains from its online purchase application to analyze it and gain a better understanding of consumer profiles and purchasing habits.
“We’re making personalized consumer suggestions for our customers, and the product catalog we launched for the holiday season has already generated over 6,000 comments,” said Econo CEO Eduardo Marxuach.
In education, the Inter American University is using AI at its San Juan campus to solve the queries of their recruitment and admissions system more effectively by optimizing these processes with the help of ChatBots, said Marilina Lucca, campus provost.
Now, the information available to potential students is more uniform and structured and they have managed to increase the number of admissions, she said.