At the end of 2019, BlueDot, a Toronto-based company specializing in infectious disease surveillance using artificial intelligence and machine learning, let its customers know about the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak in China.
That was a full week ahead of the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which let Americans know on Jan. 6, and nine days ahead of the World Health Organization on Jan. 9.
More than 100 people have died from the coronavirus worldwide. While the virus continues to spread, BlueDot was able to prevent its customers from exposing themselves to any issues before the outbreak had left China and traveled by plane to North America.
BlueDot founder Kamran Khan founded the company in 2014 after seeing first hand what the SARS epidemic did to Toronto a decade earlier.
“In 2003, I watched the virus overwhelm the city and cripple the hospital. There was an enormous amount of mental and physical fatigue, and I thought, ‘Let’s not do this again,’” Khan stated in a recent article for Wired.
Healthcare is an excellent example of how AI can change and disrupt an industry for the better. Here are seven more examples of companies using AI to benefit their shareholders and the rest of the world.
Household Products: Unilever (UL)
On the surface, a company like Unilever (NYSE:UL), which makes household products such as Dove soap, Hellmann’s mayonnaise and Lipton tea, hardly seems like a suitable beneficiary of AI.
However, the company gathers so much data from its 25 global brands. AI and machine learning is the only way it can cut through the noise.
Harvard’s Extension School for Professional Development discussed the business applications for artificial intelligence in a 2019 blog post. The Netherlands-based company was a big part of this discussion.
“One company that’s successfully integrated AI tech into multiple aspects of its business is Unilever, a consumer goods corporation. In addition to streamlining hiring and onboarding, AI is helping Unilever get the most out of its vast amounts of data,” the blog post stated.
And according to this blog post, which featured Nexus FrontierTech co-founder Mark Esposito, AI helped Unilever with some difficult challenges.
“Data informs much of what Unilever does, from demand forecasts to marketing analytics. The company observed that their data sources were coming from varying interfaces and APIs, according to Diginomica. This both hindered access and made the data unreliable.”
To overcome this problem, Unilever worked with Microsoft’s (NASDAQ:MSFT) Power BI tool. It collected both internal and external data to store on its own platform. Then it developed that data for future analysis.
Rather than waiting for technology, Unilever has sought out ways to solve problems through the use of AI.
As the world of household products begins to embrace AI, Unilever will already be around the curve. It’s looking for the next industry disruption it can tackle long before the rest of its peers.
That’s good news for Unilever shareholders.
Entertainment: Netflix (NFLX)
Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) has become such an ingrained part of everyday life. We sometimes forget that the video streaming service is as much a technology company as it is an entertainment business.
Netflix reported its fourth-quarter results Jan. 21 and they were better than expected, beating analyst estimates on both the top and bottom line.
Although Netflix is primarily known for its use of AI to figure out what its customers want to watch, it also uses AI algorithms to select the specific cover art to use for each movie or TV show. That helps prevents users from aimlessly searching for content to watch.
Netflix will be fine if it keeps using AI in interesting ways to distinguish itself from the many competitors that are cropping up.
I continue to like the stock a lot.
Farming: Deere (DE)
This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned Deere (NYSE:DE) in an article about AI. In August 2019, I discussed how John Deere had begun to think about the future farm as far back as 2013. That’s long before artificial intelligence became a household word. Its acquisition of Blue River in 2017 has helped take the agriculture business to the next level.
At CES 2020, Blue River displayed its latest high-tech gizmo to take the agriculture world by storm. Blue River created See and Spray, a weed control machine that uses AI powered by an Nvidia (NASDAQ:NVDA) chip. This tech helps it distinguish between weeds and crops before spraying liquid herbicide.
By improving its ability to kill weeds while using as little spray as possible, it’s not only improving the quality of the harvest but doing less damage to the earth. That’s a win for farmers, consumers and shareholders.
As AI technology continues to evolve, you can be sure that John Deere will be at the forefront of agriculture innovation. Eventually, investors will take notice. Consider buying now while DE stock is still in a funk.
Internet Content and Information: Pinterest (PINS)
It’s hot off the presses. Social media platform Pinterest (NYSE:PINS) added a new feature to its app on Jan. 28 that will allow users to virtually try on lipstick before buying from beauty retailers such as Estee Lauder (NYSE:EL) and Sephora.
Pinterest calls the new service Try on, powered by Lens, the visual search tool the company created in 2017. Lens is said to be able to recognize 2.5 billion home and fashion objects as a result of artificial intelligence.
I continue to be amazed at how well Pinterest has integrated the smartphone camera with artificial intelligence to create shoppable pins and other customer engagement tools.
“A picture is indeed worth a thousand words,” GroupM’s Global Head of Social Kieley Taylor said. “… We see significant value for brands to tap into visual search on Pinterest as it will allow wider discover by tastemakers and drive meaningful consumer engagements online and off.”
I do too. That’s why I believed it was an absolute buy in December when trading under $19. At $22, it’s still a long-term buy.
Credit Services: Visa (V)
Visa (NYSE:V) processes more than 100 billion transactions each year. If you’ve ever had a card compromised, you know how much legwork is involved in keeping those payments secure.
According to Visa’s Chief Information Security Officer Sunil Seshadri, the company logs as many as 8 billion security events each day. While many of these events don’t result in intrusions, the incredible amount of data that passes over its network makes it difficult to tell the good guys from the cyber thieves.
For this reason, it uses AI to find malware, that if undetected, could result in a successful breach.
While it’s impossible to protect against all intrusions, AI has become a much faster way to separate the wheat from the chaff. It also helps ensure that Visa’s network continues to perform flawlessly, keeping the hackers at bay.
I see Visa’s use of AI as just another way to keep a wide moat in the financial services industry.
Internet Retail: Amazon (AMZN)
Although Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) is known to most people for its e-commerce business, it could just as easily be considered a company that specializes in AI.
In July 2018, Forbes’ Blake Morgan wrote about how the company reorganized itself around AI and machine learning.
“AI isn’t located in a single office at Amazon, and information is spread throughout departments,” Morgan wrote. “Machine learning technology is used by the product recommendation team to improve its product forecasts, and those insights are shared throughout the company.”
Everything Amazon does has an AI bent to it because CEO Jeff Bezos knows the faster it can sift through all of the data generated by this global business, the quicker it can figure out what the customer wants next.
Right now, super-fast delivery options seem to be the hot button for consumers. Naturally, AI and machine learning are a big part of how it’s able to keep up with same-day and one-day delivery schedules.
Amazon’s spending heavily on technology right now and AI is a big part of that. And I’d expect that’s not going to change for the foreseeable future. That’s good news for owners of AMZN stock.
While most InvestorPlace articles relate to public companies, it’s always nice to include a tidbit or two about private companies.
In the case of Quizlet, a San Francisco-based provider of online studying tools that include quizzes, flashcards and diagrams, it uses artificial intelligence to understand how students can study more effectively.
Since many students are prone to studying at the last minute, Quizlet came up with a Learning Assistant Platform that figures out which terms individual students are likely to forget.
Quizlet has more than 50 million active users in over 130 countries. And these users have access to more than 300 million study sets.
One of the company’s primary products is Quizlet Learn, which provides a free customized study plan for students based on billions of anonymous study sessions its AI-powered platform has analyzed.
While it’s a known commodity in the education world, I doubt we’ll see Quizlet going public anytime soon. That said, it is working at monetizing older students who are in college and continuing education classes, so you never know.
At the time of this writing Will Ashworth did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.